CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (Catholic News Service) — His Holiness Benedict XVI, who began his papacy describing himself as a “humble servant in the Lord’s vineyard,” described his retirement as a time of being a “simple pilgrim, who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth.”
The 85-year-old pope emeritus arrived in Castel Gandolfo Feb. 28 about two-and-a-half hours before the end of his pontificate.
He planned to spend about two months at the papal villa south of Rome before moving into a former monastery in the Vatican Gardens in Rome.
His Holiness Benedict XVI arrived in a helicopter from the Vatican and rode by car through the fields and formal gardens of the papal villa before reaching the residence.
Hours before he arrived, townspeople, pilgrims and visitors began filling the main square outside the papal residence. As they waited for the pope, they prayed the rosary.
As soon as he entered the residence, the pope emeritus went upstairs and, standing on the balcony overlooking the main square, he greeted the crowd.
“Dear friends, I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and by your friendship, which does me such good,” he told them.
“You know that for me, today is different than the days that have gone before. You know that I am no longer supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church — until 8 o’clock I will be, but not after that.”
“I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth,” he told them. “But with all my heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the church and humanity,” he told them.
Pope Benedict thanked the people for their support and asked them to continue to pray and work for the good of the church, too.
“With all my heart, I impart my blessing,” he told them, before giving a simple blessing, in Italian, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Enzo Romagnoli, who runs a deli near the papal villa, told Catholic News Service he was born during the pontificate of Pius XI. “Since then, I’ve seen all the popes here.”
“It both sad and beautiful” to have Pope Benedict in town as he retires, he said. “But we are honored to have him here.”
Romagnoli said when he travels and people ask him where he’s from, he responds “Castel Gandolfo,” and everyone knows where that is, which is an honor for such a small town.
Even half an hour after the pope had gone inside, a man dressed in a suit stood near the entrance to the villa with a sign, “Dear Pope, we are with you and we will miss you.”
Mauro Giovannucci, who runs a butcher shop in the main square, told CNS: “This is a unique event, a new experience of enthusiasm and joy. When the pope is here, even the air is more pleasant.”
He prayed that God would help Pope Benedict; “We all love him.”
Just after Benedict XVI arrived, two Swiss Guards stood at the main doors of the residence and two more stood just inside. They were scheduled to close the doors at 8 p.m. and return to the Vatican, since their job is to guard the pope.
Their place was to be taken by Vatican police officers inside the villa. Outside, there were plenty of carabinieri — the Italian military police — and Italian state police officers.
Several hours before he departed the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo, Benedict XVI addressed the College of Cardinals and personally spoke to each one, including Cardinal Justin Rigali, who is in residence in Knoxville and is a former archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia. When Cardinal Rigali spoke to the pontiff emeritus, the cardinal said he was representing the faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Knoxville.
Cardinal Rigali, like other cardinals, has received numerous requests for media interviews ahead of the papal conclave. He appeared on the ABC TV news show Good Morning America with Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Feb. 28, just prior to Benedict XVI’s official resignation and he is fulfilling other media requests. An ABC news crew has been filming Cardinal Rigali for an upcoming story about the papal succession and followed him to Rome.
Here is Benedict XVI’s comments to the cardinals before leaving the Vatican:
“Dear beloved brothers
I welcome you all with great joy and cordially greet each one of you. I thank Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who as always, has been able to convey the sentiments of the College, Cor ad cor loquitur. Thank you, Your Eminence, from my heart.
And referring to the disciples of Emmaus, I would like to say to you all that it has also been a joy for me to walk with you over the years in light of the presence of the Risen Lord. As I said yesterday, in front of thousands of people who filled St. Peter’s Square, your closeness, your advice, have been a great help to me in my ministry. In these 8 years we have experienced in faith beautiful moments of radiant light in the Churches’ journey along with times when clouds have darkened the sky. We have tried to serve Christ and his Church with deep and total love which is the soul of our ministry. We have gifted hope that comes from Christ alone, and which alone can illuminate our path. Together we can thank the Lord who has helped us grow in communion, to pray to together, to help you to continue to grow in this deep unity so that the College of Cardinals is like an orchestra, where diversity, an expression of the universal Church, always contributes to a superior harmony of concord. I would like to leave you with a simple thought that is close to my heart, a thought on the Church, Her mystery, which is for all of us, we can say, the reason and the passion of our lives. I am helped by an expression of Romano Guardini’s, written in the year in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution Lumen Gentium, his last with a personal dedication to me, so the words of this book are particularly dear to me .
Guardini says: ‘The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ.’
This was our experience yesterday, I think, in the square. We could see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and truly lives by the power of God, She is in the world but not of the world. She is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, as we saw yesterday. This is why another eloquent expression of Guardini’s is also true: “The Church is awakening in souls.” The Church lives, grows and awakens in those souls which like the Virgin Mary accept and conceive the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer to God their flesh and in their own poverty and humility become capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all times in all places. Let us remain united, dear brothers, to this mystery, in prayer, especially in daily Eucharist, and thus serve the Church and all humanity. This is our joy that no one can take from us.
Prior to bidding farewell to each of you personally, I want to tell you that I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you may all be fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new Pope. May the Lord show you what is willed by Him. And among you, among the College of Cardinals, there is also the future Pope, to whom, here to today, I already promise my unconditional reverence and obedience. For all this, with affection and gratitude, I cordially impart upon you my Apostolic Blessing.”