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'There were times when it seemed God was sleeping' POPE HINTS AT STRESSES THAT MADE HIM QUIT.


THE outgoing Pope delivered an emotional final speech yesterday as he waved goodbye to his faithful FLOCK of millions.

A packed St Peter's Square. - along with Catholics AROUND the world - watched as the pontiff reminisced that there were times during his eight-year reign "when it seemed the Lord was sleeping".

As well as the first hint of the stresses that led to his retirement, Pope Benedict XVI remembered moments of "joy and light" as the head of the Catholic church.

The 85-year-old will meet his cardinals today before formally giving up his title at 7pm - leaving them to choose a successor. He is the first pope in 600 years to resign.


Yesterday, after abandoning a catechism lesson, he quietly slipped out of the limelight with chants of "Benedetto" and echoes of "Grazie" ringing in his ears.

Under blue skies and brilliant sunshine, he used the extraordinary occasion to explain his decision to step down and urged people to pray for his successor.

His Holiness said: "To love the Church means also to have courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the Church in mind, not oneself."

As the thunderous applause dimmed, he went on to talk about how he had questioned if God truly wanted him as pope after being elected in 2005. He recalled telling God: "It's a great burden you have placed on my shoulders."

He added: "During eight years, I have had moments of joy and light but also moments that haven't been easy... when seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping."

He thanked his cardinals and colleagues for their guidance and for "understanding and respecting an important decision.".

The pontiff then made a lap of the heaving Square in his Mercedes Popemobile, stopping to kiss and bless children as the crowd waved thank-you placards.

Those who could not get into the Square picked spots along the main boulevard to watch on giant TV screens.

Some 50,000 tickets were requested for Benedict's final blessing but the number of attendees could have been double that figure.

Jan Marie, a 53-year-old in his first year as a seminarian, said: "It's difficult - the emotion is so big but we support his decision." The mood was far more buoyant than the Pope's final Sunday blessing and felt similar to events involving his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Benedict said that he decided to retire after realising that he simply didn't have the "strength of mind or body" to carry on in the role.

Many of his cardinals were present for the final audience, including Roger Mahony.

He is the object of a campaign in the US to persuade him to withdraw from the conclave after covering up for sexually abusive priests. But Mahony said he will be among the 115 cardinals voting on who the next pope should be.

Britain's most senior Roman Cath-olic, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, 75, will not be among those choosing a new pontiff. He was forced to resign this week after being accused by three priests and an ex-priest of "inappropriate behaviour" in the 1980s.

He strenuously denies the allegations but said he had withdrawn from the conclave so as not to detract from the decision-making process.

Vatican officials say the cardinals will begin meeting Monday to decide when Monday to decide when to set the date for the papal elections.

But those in the crowd yesterday simply wanted to savour their final, moving moments with the departing Pope Benedict. Maria Cristina Chiarini, 52, from Lugo in central Italy, said: "I came to thank him for what he has done for the Church.

"There's nostalgia but also comfort because, as a Christian, we have hope. The Lord won't leave us without a guide."

It emerged last night that Benedict's "last gift" to the Church was a decision to allow the mystical Shroud of Turin to go on display again.

TV cameras will be allowed to show images of the relic, believed to have covered the body of Christ after his death. In 2010, Benedict authorised a public viewing of the Shroud - the first since 2000 and only the fifthin 100 years. Two million people went to Turin Cathedral where it was displayed.

The Pope spent several minutes kneeling in front of the 14ft-long linen cloth, which bears the faint image of a man and appears to be stained by blood from wounds in his feet, wrists and side.

The latest viewing will take place on Easter Saturday, March 30, with further details to be announced in the coming weeks.

Yesterday, the Pope finished his fond farewell with a tweet. He wrote: "If only everyone could experience the joy of being a Christian, being loved by God who gave his Son for us!"

I have had moments of joy & light but also some that have not been easy


WAVING GODBYE The Pope at final address yesterday

FINAL LAP Pontiff in the Popemobile

FLOCK & AWE The packed St Peter's Square. Below, papal tweet

HOLY LIGHT Nuns hold vigil outside Pope's apartment
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 28, 2013

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