As it happened: Pope Benedict XVI resignation

Key Points

  • Benedict XVI has become the first Pope in nearly 600 years to resign
  • The Pope was flown by helicopter to his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo near Rome
  • 115 cardinals will meet in Rome on Monday to plan the election of the next Pope (all times GMT)

    Hello and welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the final few hours of Benedict XVI's pontificate.

    The Pope is due to board Shepherd I, the Papal helicopter, to fly out of the Vatican shortly. He will head to the Papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, some 15 miles south-east of Rome.


    There are clear skies in Rome for the short flight - we'll bring you footage of the journey on this page.

    Stay with us for the latest updates, as well as links to pieces of analysis and context from Vatican experts and our team in Rome. Do send us your thoughts following the instructions on the right.


    Benedict XVI earlier addressed the College of Cardinals - the most senior figures in the Church - calling for unity and harmony and pledging his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to the next pope.

    He said he hoped God would show them the right way as they prepared to elect the next Pope. Each cardinal then kissed his hand in a personal farewell.


    As Vatican dignitaries and invited guests gather to see the Pope off, the square outside the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo is full of people praying the rosary and awaiting the arrival of Shepherd I. There are mixed emotions of excitement and sadness and Vatican flags flutter from lamp posts.


    Applause ripples around the Vatican square as Benedict emerges to be greeted by the top brass in the Curia - the administrative body that runs the Holy See.

    He will stay in quiet seclusion in Castel Gandolfo for about two months while his future permanent home - a convent inside the Vatican - is being renovated.

    Benedict ducks into a black Mercedes for the short drive under police escort to the papal helicopter.


    A quick break-down of what's expected over the next couple of hours: Shepherd I will take off in the next few minutes for the 15-minute flight to Castel Gandolfo.

    At around 1700 GMT, Benedict will appear at a window overlooking the public square in Castel Gandolfo to greet the crowd that has been building there all day.

    At 1900 GMT he will cease to be pope. The Church then goes into what is known as "Sede Vacante" - the period between the death or resignation of one pope and the election of his successor.

    For details on that and other clerical terms, have a look at our glossary.


    Pre-checks are completed and the engines are on as Shepherd I prepares for lift-off. Romans are gathered on roof-tops across the city to see off the Pope on his final journey.

    The bells of St Peter's are ringing to mark the historic occasion.


    We have lift-off. Five minutes late but that's pretty prompt in Vatican time.

    If you're wondering about the Italian signature on the side of the chopper, that's because it's owned not by the Vatican but Alitalia...

    Stacey O'Shaughnessy

    tweets: Watching the Pope leave the Vatican...very emotional


    Pope Benedict XVI's last tweet has just been sent from his @Pontifex account:

    "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."


    The Pope's helicopter flies sedately over the Colosseum. What next for Benedict XVI? Have a look at our Pope resignation primer.


    There's the sound of honking cars in the Italian capital. That might be Romans bidding farewell to their bishop - but then it might just be rush hour...


    The Church is moving into unchartered waters with this abdication. The last time a Pope resigned, the "new" St Peter's basilica had not even been built.

    Papal historian Michael Walsh analyses some of the potential problems the existence of two popes could create.


    At his final address to the college of cardinals earlier, Benedict XVI looked back on his eight-year pontificate, recalling "very beautiful moments of radiant light on the path of the Church, together with moments in which the occasional cloud thickened in the sky".

    There's not a cloud in the sky as he makes his final journey as Pope.


    The helicopter is making its way over Rome's Ciampino airport - that will be seeing a big upturn in traffic over the next couple of weeks for the papal election.

    Jenn Reynolds

    tweets: What a historic day. Watching the events of the last day of service for the #Pope. This is one of those days that everyone will remember.


    As Shepherd I forges south, harlequin-uniformed Swiss guards have appeared at the gates of the apostolic palace in Castel Gandolfo.

    They will step inside at 1900 GMT as the Pope's resignation comes into effect, to be replaced by members of the Vatican police.


    Touchdown at Castel Gandolfo and the Pope disembarks to be greeted by those in charge of his summer residence.

    Looking ahead, officially, anyone prepared to be baptised can be elected Pope. In reality, it's likely to be one of the 115 men taking part in the Conclave. Here's our pick of front-runners. What do you think?

    Alexa Porter

    tweets: Watching the #Pope It makes me proud to be a #catholic and excited and prayerful as we navigate this unchartered territory.


    As he steps into another black Mercedes for the short drive to the residence, the Pope is smiling and seems calm during what must be an emotionally charged time.

    Ronnie Johnson, Scotland

    Emails: His Holiness is showing us, (Roman Catholic Church), the way forward, to be open to change and lateral thinking through prayer.


    Whoever takes over from Benedict XVI will inherit a brimming inbox. Here's a look at some of the issues with which the next pope will be confronted.

    Tanya, London

    Emails: Remarkable man, brilliant academic and theologian, but most significantly, sincere human being which he proved to be with his last act. We will miss him immensely but look forward to our next leader whom we shall trust and respect. I just wish I was in Rome to witness this incredible and historical moment.


    tweets: It always blows my mind when I watch history happening. This will be talked about in books someday.


    The Pope has arrived at his summer residence, outside which large crowds have gathered to mark this monumental occasion.

    A Vatican flag bearing his insignia is fluttering gently in the breeze atop the building.


    The Vatican correspondent for the Catholic weekly newspaper The Tablet, Robert Mickens, who will be joining the BBC for our coverage throughout the forthcoming conclave, sums up the atmosphere at Castel Gandolfo as "grieving, but without a death".

    Sihle Ngobese

    tweets: Don't get it wrong...the #Pope is a boss! I salute him for his time in office:) May his holiness retire in peace!


    The Pope is greeted by cheers as he appears at a balcony overlooking the town square.

    A microphone is at the ready. We think these could be his final public words as Pope - there are no scripted remarks prepared.


    "Thank you very much for your friendship," says the Pope to applause. "As of 20:00 I'll no longer be a pontiff - I'm going to become a pilgrim about to start his last journey on this earth."

    "Let's go forward with God for the good of the Church and the world."

    Benedict XVI blesses the crowd and steps back inside. Some of those in the square below wipe tears from their eyes as the town's bells peel dolefully in the background. When will we see him again?

    Molly Mukotekwa

    tweets: Goodbye #Pope Benedict XV1 will miss you

    Jose Ditan

    tweets: Will truly miss Pope Benedict XVI as head of the Roman Catholic Church. Thank you for being Our Father for 8 yrs.

    Agnes Amelink, Netherlands

    Emails: What a spectacular sight: watching this helicopter flying past the colosseum and san giovanni in laterano was really like watching a live coverage of ascension.

    Adrian Gallacher, Motherwell

    Emails: I have a great feeling of loss as he has truly been a spiritual father to me. But then I felt that way about John Paul 2! This is what the papacy means to me as a reading, believing, practising Catholic. But God will give us another visible spiritual father. It's exciting as well!

    Bonbil, Ghana

    Texts: Feeling is mixed.. Both sadness n a good emotion.


    At 1900 GMT, Benedict XVI's authority as Pope will end, and he will surrender the trappings of office - including his red shoes and gold fisherman's ring. The papal apartment in the Vatican will be sealed and we will officially enter the "Sede Vacante" - the period between Popes.

    For details on that and other Catholic terms, have a look at our glossary.

    John Porter. Nottingham

    Texts: Let's hope it's another 600 years before the next pope resigns. There has been far too much coverage for our country which is not even Christian any more, never mind Catholic. There is so much more of import today.


    In his retirement, the pope emeritus will wear a simple white cassock rather than his ornate vestments, and swap his famous red shoes - the colour is symbolic of the blood of the early Christian martyrs - for brown.

    The long-time theologian is expected eventually to retire to a monastery on a hill inside Vatican City, with officials saying he will not intervene in the papacy of his successor, though he may offer advice.

    Junjun, Philippines

    Emails: great to be catholic, i will never forget this night. Grazie Benedito, we love you!


    If you'd like to learn more about the Pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo - and its stunning views - have a look at this picture gallery put together by the folks at the Catholic News Service.

    Dr Rithesh DCunha, Mangalore india

    Emails: Dear pope....we'll miss you....may your prayers watch over us...thank you

    Adele, Banbury

    Emails: Amazing scenes from Rome. Not even a Catholic and gripped by these scenes. Something really special going on here. God bless Pope Benedict and his successor and well done BBC on amazing coverage. Feeling rather emotional here.


    It has been an emotional day in Rome. Here are some pictures of the Pope's final audience posted by the Archdiocese of Westminster in the UK.

    Charlie SantAngelo, Hollywood

    Emails: The bells of St. Peter have bid farewell to Benedict. May God bless him, may God bless the next successor to the throne of St. Peter & may God bless us all for Peace on Earth.

    Jossie Jaalouk

    tweets: We are truly lucky to be witnessing such historical moments. Respect Papa.


    As the clock ticks down to his 19:00 resignation, here's the text of the Pope's final address to the College of Cardinals in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. Thanks to Catholic Voices for posting.

    Theophilus Okoi, Abidjan

    Emails: It's a moment of reflection on the works and times of our dear Pope. I have always prayed for the Church especially the Pope for God's guidance and that has been demonstrated in his resolve to obey the laws of nature and for giving up due to the failings of his strengths. God bless the Pope emeritus!


    To give you a recap on today's historic developments: Pope Benedict has left the Vatican for the last time as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

    He was flown by helicopter - Shepherd I - to his summer residence outside Rome, where he made a final public appearance to bless the waiting crowds. They responded with rapturous applause.


    Earlier, in a final message on Twitter, the 85-year-old pontiff thanked his followers for their love and support. In an hour-and-a-half, his authority as Pope will end and he will surrender the trappings of office - including his red shoes and gold fisherman's ring.


    In an audience earlier on Thursday the Pope assured dozens of cardinals he would respect and obey his successor.

    In a few months, the pope emeritus - as he will then be known - will return to live in seclusion in a converted convent inside the Vatican.

    Juergen Boernig, Germany & Netherlands

    Emails: a very emotional moment not only for me but for the entire world. I am watching the BBC coverage from the European Space Agency in the Netherlands. Especially emotional for me as I am also German. Very sad to see Benedetto XVI resign but he did it for the good of the Church and its followers. A very historic moment we all could witness and that is thanks to the medias covering it with their teams on location. For Benedetto XVI - May he live long and as healthy as possible. Thank you. God Bless you. JP

    Alex Irschenberg, Bavaria

    Emails: Thank you Holy Father.

    Brian, Derby

    Texts: Pope Benedict has taken such a courageous step by resigning with ill health and I can well understand why because he would seen first hand how much pain Pope John II suffered in his last days as supreme Pontiff in 2005. Viva Papa Benedicto!


    The Pope's resignation has been getting a lot of coverage from around the world.

    School Reporters from Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College in Altrincham have compiled this audio piece on how his departure will affect Catholics in the UK. Have a listen!

    Gergory Ho, Hong Kong

    Emails: I happened to have been in Rome the day the pontiff announced his abdication. As a catholic I found it hard to come to terms with this, and could not help but wonder - will Benedict's successor continue to vanguard the Church's conservative ideologies in the face of rapid secularisation of the modern world? But before we concern ourselves with these questions - thank you Holy Father, you've led your flock well!


    They say sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words:

    The helicopter with Pope Benedict XVI aboard flies over St Peter'' basilica at the Vatican on 28 February 2013 in Rome
    Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful from the balcony of his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 28 February 2013

    And here's the Pope giving his final public blessing from the balcony at Castel Gandolfo.

    Peter Clark, Bristol, UK

    Emails: I'm not a deeply religious person but one cannot fail to feel the emotion in the last moments of the Pontiff. He has shown true conviction in his beliefs to take this monumental step...

    Kimberly A Knight

    tweets: When will women have a voice in the selection, when will women be ordained, retrograde much? #pope #21stcentury #pope

    Saul E Gonzalez

    tweets: I don't blame J.A. Ratzinger for seeking retirement with all the mess he leaves behind


    The world's media have been following this story closely. Here's a round-up of European coverage from the folks at BBC Monitoring.

    Charlie Ridgway

    tweets: A traditional would say Priests don't marry, Women aren't ordained and Popes don't retire. But now? Is change really afoot? #IfOnly #Vatican

    Jules, Whitstable

    Emails: Thank you holy father :-)


    In 50 minutes the Pope's resignation will come into effect.

    What happens next is dictated by protocol honed over the centuries:

    During the time between the resignation and the election of Benedict XVI's successor, the college of cardinals will govern the Church, headed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as the cardinal camerlengo - or chamberlain.

    It is his job to supervise the conclave - or papal election.

    During this period all the cardinals - retirees included - will gather in Rome to discuss in strict secrecy the merits of likely candidates.

    Jennifer Hutchison

    tweets: All Catholic Churches in Phoenix metro are being asked to ring their bells for 8 minutes starting at 11:52 #pope

    Anne Cahalan, Ireland

    Texts: Thank you for your coverage of this historical and emotional event. God bless our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and our prayers are with him always. Thank you Holy Father for all you have done for us and for all your prayers. We continue to pray for you, for the Cardinals now and for our Church. God bless you.

    Clair Duffin, Coatbridge

    Emails: God bless you Holy Papa. You are making the right choice. Thank you for your years of service enjoy you retirement x


    There have been some wonderful images coming out of Rome today - have a look at our latest picture gallery of the momentous events.

    Swiss guards stand at the entrance of Pope Benedict XVI's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, 28 February 2013

    The Pope's resignation at 19:00 GMT will be marked by the Swiss Guards at the gate of Castel Gandolfo going off duty to return to the Vatican.


    At that stage, the Vatican enters the Sede Vacante - or period of transition between two pontificates. Check out our glossary of Catholic terms for more details on what this Catholic terminology means.

    Josh, Dalton-in-Furness.

    Texts: Our Holy Father has been an inspiration to young Catholics like myself, and his legacy will ever be felt throughout the UK following his visit in 2010. God bless Your Holiness!


    So what happens at 19:00 GMT? Benedict XVI will be known as Pope emeritus, or Roman pontiff emeritus. He'll give up his papal vestments and red shoes and wear simple white robes. His papal ring will be smashed and the papal apartments in the Vatican will be sealed. He will no longer be protected by Swiss Guards and he will live a life of quiet seclusion and prayer.

    For more details about what lies ahead for the soon-to-be-former Pope, have a look at this piece on life after the papacy.


    Papal resignations are rare - the last one was in 1415 - but not without precedent. Our Vatican correspondent David Willey looks at the protocol surrounding a papal abdication.

    Odiase Scott, Bologna, Italy

    Emails: Santo papa, may almighty God continue to guide and protect you as you enjoy your retirement and i pray to God to send his Holy Spirit to direct the choosing of the new pope.


    In five minutes the Catholic Church will enter Sede Vacante. This is the period between the death or resignation of one pope and the election of his successor.

    During this period all major Church decisions, such as new legislation or the appointment of bishops, are halted until a new pope is elected.

    Ordinary business and matters that cannot be postponed are decided by the College of Cardinals.


    There's an expectant hush in the square outside Castel Gandolfo, where 15 police officers are flanking the doors to the apostolic palace alongside the Swiss Guards who are about to take their leave.


    The bells are ringing as the clock strikes 20:00 in Castel Gandolfo and the Swiss Guards at the gates of the apostolic palace are being dismissed as Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate ends.

    The See of Peter is now vacant.

    Applause ripples through the crowd outside the residence as the gates are swung shut with a clunk.

    Kevin Mcsparron

    tweets: The Pope. Who really cares. Religion is truly out of sorts in the modern world!

    Tamer Yazar

    tweets: maybe #Pope leaves #Vatican but all the shadows are still there ! and maybe that's why Pope leaves the home!

    Max Shouler, Costigliole d Asti Italy

    Emails: My best wishes for your good health and peace. Thank you for everything you have done for all of us.


    The Vatican has marked the moment with an online photo album charting the eight-year pontificate of Benedict XVI. Have a look here.


    Having hung up their pikes inside Castel Gandolfo, the Swiss Guards are to change into street clothes and drive back to barracks at the Vatican.


    Roman Catholics around the world are now being urged to pray for Benedict XVI as the Church's interim leadership start the process of selecting his successor.

    Whomever is chosen, he will have a bulging in-tray. Have a look at some of the priorities for the next Pope.

    Awunkeng Frankline, Limbe, Cameroon

    Emails: If the pope feels that his age and health condition will not permit him carry out his functions well, then he may be making a right decision to step down as pope. This should be a lesson to learn by most African leaders who want to remain in power.

    Justine Cuny

    tweets: Adieu BenoƮt


    The Pope's @pontifex twitter accounts may have been suspended - with all tweets archived - but social media junkies can still get their fix of official Vatican news from the Secretariat of State - @TerzaLoggia.

    The Vatican has even released an app - the pope app - which will be providing updates during the interregnum.


    With Pope Benedict having become the first Pope to resign for six centuries, we're going to end our live coverage there.

    Do keep an eye on our news story for any more updates from the Vatican this evening, and thanks for following all the developments with us today.

    We look forward to welcoming you back during our coverage of the conclave to elect Benedict XVI's successor in the coming days.


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