Pope Benedict XVI. said good bye to the faithful in Rome: he held his last general audience in front of 250,000 pilgrims and tourists. The Pope promised to all who came and watched via TV, that he will remain in service for the Church.
“The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds,” the pope said. “But I always knew that God was in that boat and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, is not ours, but is his and he will not let it sink,” the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics told the cheering crowd.
Decision after intense reflection
Benedict XVI. said he had taken the decision of his official resignation after deep consideration, after he had felt that he no longer had the strength to fulfill the ministry. He made this decision for the good of the Church. The Pope thanked the faithful who had received his resignation with respect and understanding.
“I will continue to accompany the Church with prayer and reflection.”
Benedict XVI also asked for prayers for the Church and for his successor. “Often we speak of a demise of the Church, but she proves that she is alive,” assured the Pope. Several times, his words were interrupted by applause of the crowd.
Pope Benedict XVI. is only the second pope, who is retiring in about two millennia of Church history. Coelestin V. had previously resigned in 1294, after only a few months in office voluntarily. He died in captivity in 1296 .
A pope is elected for life, but according to canon law, a resignation is also possible . The head of the church does not even require to give reasons. Also, no one needs to accept the resignation specifically. It is crucial, however, that the decision to withdraw is entirely voluntary. The in 1983 by John Paul II reformed Canon Law (Can. 332nd Clause 2) states: “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.”
However, before Pope Benedict XVI there is known only one voluntary resignation. Pope Coelestin V. left office Voluntarily on December 13 1294 after only five months. He was overwhelmed. Church historians speak of an unprepared and uneducated hermit who could barely speak Latin. The Cardinals had just elected him pope, because in nearly two years of struggle they could not agree on another competent candidate. Coelestin retired to a monastery after resigning.