We don’t always know when a pope has given his final public address—with rare exception, popes die in office—so today’s sermon by Pope Benedict on Saint Peter’s Square felt like a bit of a historic event.
He recalled that when he was elected pope on April 19, 2005, he questioned if God truly wanted it. “‘It’s a great burden that you’ve placed on my shoulders,”‘ he recalled telling God.
During eight years, he said “I have had moments of joy and light, but also moments that haven’t been easy … moments of turbulent seas and rough winds.”
Before tens of thousands of people under clear blue skies, Pope Benedict XVI recalled a papacy full of both joy and difficulty as he held his final general audience Wednesday, the eve of his retirement as leader of the world’s Roman Catholics.
It was one of the largest crowds to turn out for Benedict in the colonnaded piazza since he was elevated to the papacy nearly eight years ago. The 85-year-old pope, seated under a canopy on the steps of the grand basilica, responded in several languages to the greetings and tributes read to him from around the world.
Many of the cardinals who will choose Benedict’s successor were in St. Peter’s Square for his final audience. Those included retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, the object of a grass-roots campaign in the U.S. to persuade him to recuse himself for having covered up for sexually abusive priests. Mahony has said he will be among the 115 cardinals voting on who the next pope should be.
Also in attendance Wednesday were cardinals over 80, who can’t participate in the conclave but will participate in meetings next week to discuss the problems facing the church and the qualities needed in a new pope.
“I am joining the entire church in praying that the cardinal electors will have the help of the Holy Spirit,” said Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, 82.