St. Peter's square was packed with tens of thousands of pilgrims as Pope Benedict gave his last blessing to the faithful and others that came to see the Pope. The Pope will steps down on Thursday, saying his health and age meant he could not continue.
Pope Benedict, energized by a cheering crowd said that he would spend his retired life in prayer and that he would not abandon the church. The 85 year old pontiff will be stepping down on Thursday. This is the first time a Pope has stepped down in modern history, the first pope to do so in 600 years. Pope Benedict is expected to give his last public audience on Wednesday, before retiring to a life of seclusion and prayer, in a Vatican monastery.
The Pope said that he was following God's wishes to abdicate saying that the Lord had asked him to climb the mountain and that prayer was not an isolation of the word.
The Lord is calling me to climb the mountain - prayer is not an isolation from the world," he said.
I am not abandoning the Church and shall continue to serve it in a manner more adapted to my age and strength, through prayer and meditation, he added.
While no date has yet been set for the start of the conclave of cardinals, who will vote in secret to elect Benedict's successor, there is renewed controversy surrounding the eligible cardinals. 117 cardinals have been called to the conclave to chose a successor for Pope Benedict. The world is wondering in anticipation if the next pope will be a Central American or African.
According to BBC News there is a whiff of scandal surrounding a Scottish and US cardinal. Some Catholics are calling on Cardinal Mahony from Los Angeles and Cardinal Keith O'Brien from Scotland to refrain from voting. Mahoney is accused of protecting priests accused of sexual abuse, while O'Brien has been accused of inappropriate behavior dating back 30 years, which he has denied.
Cardinal Mahony was stripped of his duties as Archbishop of Los Angeles last month over allegations he protected priests accused of sexual abuse.
Cardinal O'Brien has denied allegations of "inappropriate behaviour" going back 30 years.
The Vatican has denounced attempts to condition the freedom of all cardinal electors to choose who they want to lead the Church in future.
On Saturday a statement criticised the media for reporting "misinformation" about alleged intrigue and corruption in the church. As reported on Digital Journal today, the most senior Roman Catholic in the UK, 74 year old Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who is due to retire next month, faces accusations of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and has been reported to the Vatican.
This was just days after the Vatican denied stories involving sex and gay priests.
After Pope Benedict retires and moves into seclusion there will be a rocky time ahead for the Roman Catholic church. Whether or not the cardinals will find it in their heart to elect a pope from outside of Europe and if this pope will be ready to take on the issues troubling the church remains to be seen. A new pope is expected to be elected prior to Easter.