Watching the final hours of Pope Benedict XVI's reign through the streaming video on the Vatican's website, I was struck one last time by his humility. Even at this moment—when he was going out, we might say, at the top of his game—he did nothing to draw attention to himself. Before departing from the Vatican, he had sent one final tweet from @Pontifex, reminding us where our focus should be:
Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.
The crowd of clergy and nuns and laymen, members of the Curia and reporters, who came to wish Pope Benedict farewell were not allowed at the Vatican helipad. The contrast with a departing President of the United States could not have been greater; the Holy Father climbed the stairs into the helicopter and sat down. No turning around to mug for the cameras; no victory sign or salute; just the simple actions of a man ready to move on to the next stage of his life, in the service of God.
For those who know Rome, the video of the helicopter ride was a moving experience. Taking off, the helicopter headed toward the Janiculum, the Roman hill to the south of Vatican City; but then it swung in a slow, wide loop around Saint Peter's Basilica and followed the Tiber for a stretch before flying over the Colosseum—site of the martyrdom of so many early Roman Christians—and up to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the seat of the Bishop of Rome.
Just as moving was Pope Benedict's final public appearance as pontiff (and, I suspect, his final public appearance), when, on his arrival at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer palace where he will remain until sometime after his successor is elected, he went straight to the balcony on which he has prayed so many Angeluses and offered so many blessings to greet the faithful assembled below. In the English translation provided by the Vatican Information Service, he said:
Thank you. Thank you all. Dear friends, I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of Creation and your well wishes, which do me such good. Thank you for your friendship and your affection. You know that this day is different for me than the preceding ones. I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8:00 this evening and then no longer. I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth. But I would still—with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength—like to work for the common good and the Good of the Church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your kindness. Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the Church and the world. Thank you. I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!
And now, he prays. And we wait. And the Chair of Peter is vacant, as the College of Cardinals prepares to meet on Monday, March 4, for preliminary discussions on setting a date for the papal conclave.
May God bless Benedict XVI, Pontiff Emeritus, for his years of service in the vineyard of the Lord, and may He grant him many more.
More on Pope Benedict's Resignation:
- BREAKING: Pope Benedict XVI to Resign on February 28, 2013
- The Pope Resigns: "He Never Wanted to Be Pope"
- The Pope Resigns: Why February 11?
- The Pope Resigns: The Shade of Celestine
- The Pope Resigns: The Rest of the Story?
- Pope Benedict XVI's Final General Audience (February 27, 2013)
- The Pope Resigns: "Christ Continues to Walk Through All Times in All Places"
- Offer Your Thanks to Pope Benedict XVI