The final moments of Benedict's Pontificate
Two official acts, both of which will transpire at 8:00 PM Roman time, will formally and symbolically bring Benedict XVI’s pontificate to a close.
At Castel Gandolfo, the great door of the Pontifical Residence will be shut, and the Swiss Guard’s honor guard will transfer its post to the Vatican Gendarmerie, who from then on will be in charge of the Pope Emeritus’ security.
At that same hour, seals will be affixed to the Papal Apartment within the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, as well as to the elevator that leads directly to the apartment.
These were the details provided by Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, in the customary press conference with accredited journalists, whose numbers have swelled decisively during this period of transition. There are presently 3,641 journalists accredited with the Vatican Press Office, spanning 968 different organizations, 61 countries and 24 languages. More specifically, there are 336 from the printed press, 156 photographers, 2,470 from television, 231 from radio and 115 from the web.
The Pope departed from the Vatican at 4:55 PM local time via helicopter. Footage of the transfer was broadcasted worldwide.
At 5:00 PM, papal aides tweeted @Pontifex’s final message, which read: “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.” While the Pope’s Twitter account will be suspended during the Sede Vacante, Fr. Lombardi stated that “The next Pope will decide whether to continue use of the account.”
At 5:30 PM, Pope Benedict greeted the faithful gathered at Castel Gandolfo, where he was seen in his final public appearance as Supreme Pontiff.
At precisely 8:00 PM, the Apostolic See becomes officially vacant. The Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, will send official communiqués to the other members of the Sacred College until their arrival in Rome for the start of the General Congregations, which are expected to begin on Monday, 4 March. There were already 144 cardinals present in the Clementine Hall for the Pope’s farewell speech to the Sacred College (out of 208 in total), but many of them live in Rome, and – as stated by Fr. Lombardi – “many of the Cardinal Electors have yet to arrive.” So far, the Vatican Press Office has confirmed only two abstentions from the conclave, which – though not mentioned explicitly by Fr. Lombardi – are those of the Indonesian Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, and Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien. This brings the number of electors to 115. Fr. Lombardi added, “There are other cardinals who, due to health concerns, may not be able to attend.” The apostolic constitution, Universi Dominici Gregis, includes provisions for the adequate care of ailing cardinals present in Rome for the conclave.
There have been numerous “farewell” and “thank you” messages for the Pontiff from around the world. The Pope particularly appreciated one letter in particular, sent from members of the clergy and faithful in China. According to Radio Vaticana, Benedict has been “especially devoted to the cause of the Church in China, and has reserved a special place for her in his heart.”