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Tears and cheers before Pope's last public Mass.

Byline: MIKE JONES newsdesk@walesonline.co.uk

THE Pope said his last scheduled public Mass yesterday after telling onlookers he is stepping down for "the good of the church".

In his first public appearance since announcing his resignation on Monday, he thanked the public for their "love and prayers".

Benedict received a lengthy standing ovation when he entered the packed audience hall at the Vatican for his weekly general audience.

He was interrupted by applause by the throngs of people, many of whom were crying.

He repeated in Italian what he had told cardinals on Monday in Latin: that he simply did not have the strength to continue. He said: "I did this in full liberty for the good of the Church."

He asked the faithful "to continue to pray for the pope and the Church".

A huge banner reading "Grazie Santita" (Thank you Your Holiness) was strung up at the back of the hall.

Benedict appeared wan and spoke softly, but his eyes twinkled with joy at the warm welcome.

"As you know, I have decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me on April 19, 2005," he said, to applause. "I did this in full liberty for the good of the church."

He is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years, and the decision has placed the Vatican in uncharted waters: no one knows what he will be called or what he will wear after February 28.

The Vatican, however, has made it clear Benedict will play no role in the election of his successor, and once retired, he will be fully retired. He plans to live a life of prayer in a converted monastery on the far northern edge of the Vatican gardens. As a result, Benedict's final public appearances are expected to draw big crowds, as they may well represent some of the last public speeches for a man who has spent his life - as a priest, a cardinal and a pope - teaching and preaching.

And they will also represent a way for the faithful to say farewell under happier circumstances than when his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, died in 2005. The earlier audience came before his last scheduled public mass, for Ash Wednesday, to mark the official start of the Catholic Church's Lenten season.

The afternoon mass was relocated.

The pontiff had been scheduled to celebrate Ash Wednesday at the small Sant' Anselmo church, then lead a procession to Santa Sabina Basilica on Rome's Aventine Hill. The Vatican said the change to St Peter's Basilica was to accommodate the crowds, but it also saved the Pope the effort of the procession.

The Vatican insisted no serious medical ailment was behind Benedict's decision to retire, though it admitted for the first time that he has had a pacemaker for years and recently had it replaced.

The move sets the stage for a conclave by mid-March to elect a new pope. Benedict's final general audience will be held on February 27.

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Pope Benedict arrives for his weekly general audience at the Paul VI Hall

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 14, 2013
Words:517
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