The Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI will come to an end with the Sede Vacante (“Vacant See”) beginning at 8pm Rome time (7pm GMT). On the last full day of his pontificate, Pope Benedict will hold a special farewell meeting with members of the College of Cardinals in the Clementine Hall. At 4.55 p.m. the Pope will bid farewell to the pontifical household, an depart the Apostolic Palace by car from the San Damaso Courtyard. From there, he will be driven to the Vatican heliport, where he will be seen off by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. At 5.15 p.m. he will be flown to Castel Gandolfo, about 30 km from Rome. The Holy Father will then briefly greet the faithful of the Diocese of Albano from the central balcony of the Apostolic Palace. This will be the last public appearance of Benedict XVI while in office. At 8 p.m, the reign of the 265th Pope, the 264th successor of St. Peter, will come to an end, having lasted 7 years, 10 months, and 9 days.
At this point the Swiss Guard, who have protected the Holy Father during his pontificate will withdraw, and his protection falls to the Vatican Guard. Later this evening the Holy Father’s Fishermans ring will not be destroyed as is the custom when a pontificate closes, but ‘smashed’ so that it can not be further used, and the Pope Emeritus will retire to continue his life in the service of Holy Mother Church in private.
Having lived through six popes, all great workers in the vineyard – some more special to the faithful than others, some more saintly than others, some more orthodox than others, Pope Benedict (for as I write he is still our Pope) will stand as one of the great educators of modern times. His legacies will become more appreciated in his absence than they perhaps have been during his occupancy of the Chair of Peter, and in time I have no doubt he will be declared a Doctor of the Church.
Now, we pray for this kindly and saintly man, thankful for his presence among us especially during his state visit to the United Kingdom, for his wisdom and teaching, for Summorum Pontificum restoring our beloved Mass of Ages to its rightful place in our liturgy (though this still has to filter through to some of our Bishops) and in hope that his years will be serene and fruitful. Thank you your Holiness.