Pope Benedict XVI yesterday called on the faithful to pray for him and his successor in an unusual personal message ahead of his retirement today. He said his papacy had been “a heavy burden” but he accepted it because he was sure that God would guide him. At times he “felt like St Peter with his apostles on the Lake of Galilee”, he said, making reference to the Biblical story when the disciples were battling against heavy waves and Jesus Christ appeared to them.
In front of rapt crowds, the Pope spoke of moments of struggle as well as joy during his final public address from a stage set up in St. Peter’s Square. In an unusually personal message, he said there had been “many days of sunshine” but also “times when the water was rough … and the Lord seemed to sleep.” But even as the church passes through stormy seas, God will “not let her sink,” he added, in what was his final general audience before he steps down today evening.
The Pope, 85, will retire today evening, the first pope to abdicate since Gregory XII in 1415. Benedict recounted how when he was asked to be pope eight years ago, he had prayed for God’s guidance and had felt his presence “every day” since. “It was a part of the journey of the church that has had moments of joy and light, but also moments that were not easy,” he said. Dressed all in white and looking serene, the pope used his last general audience to call for a renewal of faith and speak of his own spiritual journey through eight years as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.