Benedict also gave a final set of instructions to the “princes” of the church who will elect his successor, urging them to be united as they huddle to choose the next pope.
“May the College of Cardinals work like an orchestra, where diversity — an expression of the universal church — always works toward a higher and harmonious agreement,” he said.
It was seen as a clear reference to the deep internal divisions that have come to the fore in recent months following the leaks of sensitive Vatican documents that exposed power struggles and allegations of corruption inside the Vatican.
The audience inside the Apostolic Palace was as unique as Benedict’s decision to quit, with the pope, wearing his crimson velvet cape and using a cane, bidding farewell to his closest advisers and the cardinals themselves bowing to kiss his fisherman’s ring for the last time.
A few hours later, Benedict’s closest aide, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, wept by his side as they took their final walk down the marbled halls of the Apostolic Palace to their motorcade that took them to the helipad at the top of a hill in the Vatican gardens.
As bells tolled in St. Peter’s and in church towers across Rome, Benedict took off in a helicopter that circled St. Peter’s Square, where banners reading “Thank You” were held up skyward so he could see. He flew to Castel Gandolfo, where he has spent his summers enjoying the quiet gardens overlooking Lake Albano.
Around the time he took off, the Vatican sent a final tweet from Benedict’s Twitter account, (at)Pontifex. “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”
Soon afterward, that tweet and all Benedict’s previous ones were deleted and the profile was changed to read “Sede Vacante.”