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Pope Benedict XVI Last Day (VIDEO) (LIVE UPDATES) (PHOTOS)

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At 5 p.m. CET (11 a.m. EST), Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican on a helicopter to the papal seaside retreat, Castel Gandolfo. Once he arrived at the castle, he greeted the crowd at 5:30 p.m. CET. AP has this transcript of the Pope's final words:

Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes which do me such good. Thank you for your friendship, and your affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 o'clock this evening and then no more.

I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth. But I would still ... thank you ... I would still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength, like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your sympathy.

Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!"

Nicole Winfield reports from the AP:

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI has greeted the faithful for the last time as pope, telling well-wishers gathered at the Vatican's vacation retreat that he is beginning the final stage of his life as a "simple pilgrim," hours before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.

Benedict arrived at Castel Gandolfo after an emotional sendoff from the Vatican, where his closest aide wept by his side as he bade farewell to Vatican officials gathered in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, Swiss Guards standing by at attention.

Bells tolled as he left the Vatican by helicopter and did a fly-by around St. Peter's Square. They tolled anew as he arrived in Castel Gandolfo, where the central piazza was jammed with people eager to capture the historic moment.

Pope Benedict began his last day in the papal office by greeting the College of Cardinals at around 11 am CET. In this meeting, his last with the cardinals, he declared his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to the next pope.

As of 8 p.m. CET, the Catholic world has entered into a period of Sede Vacante, literally Vacant See; and Pope Benedict XVI is Pope Emeritus.

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Dario Morelli, expert on religion and media law, writes in his blog post:

A precise, wise and great director orchestrated the video of Benedict XVI's flight toward oblivion. The inexorable trajectory of the helicopter in front of the background of a majestic and exhausted city, the hypnotic hum of the blades as the only noise, accompanied by the bells of Rome, which tolled the newly Vacant Seat -- for the first time, joyfully.

The setting and the details transformed the great historical event in a great media event, which was absolutely not a given.

Continue reading here.

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Pope Benedict XVI is pope no more. The Vatican wasted no time reflecting that on his official Twitter account.

All of his tweets were deleted on the social network (though an archive preserves them here), his picture has been replaced with the papal seal, and the account's name is now "Sede Vacante." That last phrase is Latin for "the seat being vacant," as journalist Gio Benitez pointed out.

Continue reading here.

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@ CardinalSean : Today I shared w/ Pope Benedict XVI a Bavarian greeting & also that the people of Boston thanked him for his ministry & are praying for him.

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The apartment in which Benedict XVI lived for eight years has been sealed by the state secretary cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. The seal is made of a strong adhesive band with the stamp of the vacant seat, reports HuffPost Italy.

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A few minutes after 8pm, the Swiss Guards went off-duty in front of the gates of Castel Gandolfo. The Swiss Guards, who have been protecting the Pope since 1506, are not responsible for the the pope emeritus' security. During the two months he will spend in Castel Gandolfo, the Vatican policemen will be in charge of him, reports HuffPost Italy.

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The AP explains:

Being a Swiss Guard is not all feathered helmets and puffy striped uniforms.

To even apply, you must be Catholic, male, Swiss and between 19 and 30 years of age. You need to sign up for a minimum two-year hitch and must complete your mandatory military service back at home.

Swiss Guards take an oath to protect the present pope and whoever follows him as the latest successor to the first pontiff, Peter.

Tonight, when Pope Benedict XVI retires at 8 p.m., the Swiss Guards will go inside the papal palace at Castel Gandolfo and go off duty. They won't be staying, however — after they get out of their dress uniforms they will be driven back to Rome.

Benedict will then be guarded by Vatican security personnel.

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Yes he was the leader of 1.1 billion Catholics, but did you know Pope Emeritus Benedict could fly a helicopter? Here are nine little known facts about the Pope Emeritus that may give us some clues on how he will pass the time in retirement, when he is not praying of course.

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@ JamesMartinSJ : Farewell Holy Father! Thank you for your many years of service to God and to God's people. May your retirement be filled with many graces.

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For the first time in history, the pontificate of Benedict XVI ends "quietly, without the death of the bishop of Rome, without the upheavals that lead to papal resignation in the past." This is how Gian Maria Vian, director of L'Osservatore Romano, defines this day in his editorial.

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It's not just the pope's and church's staunch supporters who have gathered to bid farewell to Pope Benedict XVI and watch the Vatican's transition of power.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a prominent American sex-abuse victims' group, has also set up shop in Rome and back home in the U.S. to press for reform and for cardinals to keep abuse victims in mind as they pick the church's next leader.

As parishioners at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York join at 2 p.m. on Thursday for a special Mass to pray for the departing pope, sex-abuse survivors said today that they plan to protest outside the church. They're demanding that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was recently part of a closed-door court deposition about how much he knew about abusive priests during his former assignment as Archbishop of Milwaukee, publish names and case histories of every known sex offender in the Archdiocese of New York. (Dolan has previously defended his handling of sex-abuse cases.)

In Rome, victims' advocates are protesting the decision of Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles to vote in the papal conclave. Mahony has been accused of mishandling reports of abusive priests while he was Archbishop of Los Angeles. On its website, SNAP has also asked for Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, to restrict who participates in the general congregations, which are business meetings that precede the conclave.

-- Jaweed Kaleem

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According to HuffPost Italy, the Vatican estimates around 10 thousand people gathered today to say one last goodbye to Pope Benedict VXI.

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Benedict XVI said in Castel Gandolfo that he still wants to contribute to the work of the Church. "As you know I am not Pope anymore," he said, to then correct himself. "I am still Pope, I won't be anymore after 8pm tonight," reports HuffPost Italy.

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@ CatholicNewsSvc : #Pope "You know today is different for me. I am pontiff until 8 p.m. then just a pilgrim in this world."

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@ RachelDonadio : i won't be pope after 8p.m. i am just a pilgrim who has reached the last stage in his pilgrimage on this earth, he says.

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@ RachelDonadio : pope greeted at castel gandolfo, also by fireman in silver suit, gendarme in red cape, bishops in black and pink. vatican = great fashion

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@ RaymondArroyo : Pope arriving at Castel Gondolfo for last time as Pope.

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@ aspeciale : Papal chopper about to land in Castel Gandolfo, the summer papal residence where #pope will spend the Conclave period

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As the Pope exits his apartments, Father Georg Gaenswein is visibly moved and starts crying, reports HuffPost Italy.

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@ CatholicNewsSvc : 5:07 p.m. Feb. 28. Pope Benedict lifts off from Vatican for last time as pope

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@ TheAnchoress : Big Bell Ringing as he was named, rings again as he leaves...

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@ RachelDonadio : helicopter sounds, bishops and faithful applaud, cheer, as pope walks toward car. secret serviceman cries as he opens the car door for pope.

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Boston Cardinal O'Malley is asking church bells to ring from 1:52 to 2:00 p.m. today to mark eight-year tenure of Pope Benedict XVI."

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@ cnalive : Pope Benedict is preparing to leave the Vatican by helicopter. Pilgrims are praying for him and singing farewell as the media holds...

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HuffPost's Jaweed Kaleem reports:

As of 8 p.m. in Italy -- 2 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast and not long after he's expected to land via helicopter at his retreat at Castel Gandolfo -- Pope Benedict XVI will become the "pope emeritus" and the Roman Catholic Church will enter the sede vacante, the period between papacies.

The rare and relatively short time -- it only lasted 17 days after Pope John Paul II died and is expected to be even shorter after Benedict's retirement, since there's no death to mourn -- leaves many levels of the complex Vatican government temporarily dissolved until a new pope is selected in a closed-door election called the papal conclave.

During this period, it's up to the College of Cardinals, plus a few additional Vatican officials, to keep the heart of the church running.

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@ CatholicNewsSvc : In Castel Gandolfo, pilgrims awaiting pope reciting rosary: the "mysteries of light" in Italian.

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HuffPost Italy's Stefano Baldolini reports:

The theologian Hans Kung has always been very hard on Joseph Ratzinger’s papacy, and was particularly disappointed by Pope Benedict XVI’s last audience. He did not expect that the resigning Pope would decide to stay in the Vatican to wield his influence. A situation without precedent.

Two Popes in the Vatican?

Let’s be clear, I don’t have anything against Joseph Ratzinger. I wish him all the best. I have nothing against a nice life, in a place where one can rest. We are the same age. … Initially I thought that retreating in a convent to pray was a good decision. But now it seems this is not the plan. It is very dangerous to have a former pope living in the actual Vatican. Who does not live in a monastery. He will not live with monks, but with nuns who were at his service in the Vatican when he was pope. He will have the same secretary, Father George. He wants to remain in contact with cardinals and with the new pope. I was afraid of a “shadow pope” in the Vatican. Now it seems confirmed. He is certainly interested in prolonging his line, otherwise he would not have done it like this.

Continue reading here.

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