Pope Benedict blesses thousands at St. Peter's Square
Published Sunday, February 17, 2013 7:07AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, February 17, 2013 10:54AM EST
Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists packed into St. Peter’s Square Sunday, as Pope Benedict XVI blessed the faithful from his window at the Vatican for the first time since announcing his resignation.
In his second last Angelus blessing before he steps down at the end of February, Benedict delivered his blessing in Italian, English, French, German, Polish and Spanish, and asked the crowd to “continue praying for me and for the next pope.”
He later thanked the faithful for their “affection and spiritual closeness.”
Freelance journalist Josephine McKenna told CTV News Channel on Sunday that the blessing was a “tribute to the city of Rome.”
“He is of course the Bishop of Rome, as well as the pope for Catholics around the world,” she said.
The pope gave special thanks to the residents of Rome, causing some to speculate on his future title. The Vatican has suggested Benedict may be called “emeritus bishop of Rome.”
The noon blessing typically attracts crowds of a few thousand, but officials estimate Sunday’s crowd topped 50,000.
Starting Sunday evening, Benedict will remain out of the public spotlight for one week, as a meditation service at the Vatican begins to mark the traditional Lenten period.
Cardinals will elect Benedict’s successor in March in a secretive conclave in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The Vatican has not yet announced the start date of the conclave, but media have been told to prepare for changes in the scheduling.
While church law dictates that the conclave must begin 16 to 20 days after the pope resigns or dies, officials may move up the conclave to earlier in March, in order to have a new leader in place for Easter celebrations at the end of the month.
Benedict, 85, will then retreat to the Holy See’s summer estate southeast of Rome for a number of weeks. In April he is expected to move to a monastery behind Vatican City’s walls where he will live out his retirement.
Meanwhile cardinals have begun arriving in Rome to begin the process of setting up the conclave.
With files from The Associated Press