With an elegant white papal helicopter swirling over our heads, Benedict XVI flew into Castel Gandolfo for a final word to faithful living in the diocese of Albano Laziale—my adopted Italian home—and summer residence of popes since the early 17th century.
At about 5:45 pm Rome time, I was personal witness with a few thousand others as he delivered a final public address, which lasted no more than a minute. Completely off the cuff, Benedict spoke with great personal affection and encouragement for those us who have called him “our neighbor” for the last eight summers in the bucolic and panoramic Roman countryside (see also ABC video below):
Dear friends, I’m happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes which do me such good. Thank you for your friendship, and your affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 o’clock this evening and then no more.
I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth. But I would still … thank you … I would still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength, like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your sympathy.
Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!
Benedict XVI was a pope that personified humility and Christ’s love for humanity. Everyone of us in the square this evening at Castel Gandolfo felt both sincere respect and, now, pain as the former pontiff closed his window above us for a private life of prayer, contemplation, and scholarly dedication. The sede vacante now officially begins.
Arrivederci Benedetto. Ti vogliamo bene!