(Mirror) – The Pope admitted that there were times in his papacy when he feared that “the Lord was sleeping” as he delivered the final blessing of his reign today.
A smiling but frail Benedict XVI rode through a huge crowd in St Peter’s Square, kissing babies before using his final general audience to reject suggestions that he is “climbing down from the Cross”.
“I am not returning to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences etc,” the outgoing Pope, 85, told the faithful. “I am not abandoning the Cross, but will stay before our Lord on the Cross in a new way.”
However, speaking to a crowd of up to 150,000, Benedict conceded that the Roman Catholioc Church had had “moments of joy and light but also difficult moments” during his papacy - a possible reference to controversies over child abuse and homosexuality that have dogged the Church.
“I have had moments of joy and light, but also moments that haven’t been easy ... moments of turbulent seas and rough winds, as has occurred in the history of the Church when it seemed like the Lord was sleeping,” he said.
Outlining his reasons for leaving his post, the Pope told his congregation that he had felt too weak to carry on.
“In these last months I have felt my strength diminish and I asked God insistently, in prayer, to show me His light to enable me to take the right decision, not for my benefit but for the good of the Church,” he said.
“I have taken this step in the full knowledge of its gravity and also its novelty, but also with profound serenity of spirit,” he said.
“To love the Church also signifies to have the courage to take difficult, agonised choices, always looking at the good of the Church, not of yourself.”
Benedict told how he had received many letters of good wishes since announcing his resignation.
“It’s true that I receive letters from the great of the world – heads of state, religious leaders and representatives of the world of culture. But I also receive very many letters from simple people who write to me from their hearts and allow me to feel their affection.”
Benedict wore a white cassock with a wide-lapelled white overcoat as his aides lifted babies from the crowd for him to kiss. On his hand was the heavy gold “Fisherman’s Ring” that he will have to give up when he becomes, as the Vatican says, “Pope Emeritus”.
Despite reports that he had gone blind in one eye and had difficulty walking, he read his address without difficulty and climbed the steps on to his Mercedes Popemobile unaided.
As he left the altar in St Peter’s Square for the last time as Pope, he raised both hands above his head in a farewell salute to the cheering faithful.
“It’s the experience of a lifetime,” said Johnny Cash, from Nottingham, who had just arrived in Rome. “This Pope is among the greatest popes of all time. I love him. God bless him.”(BBC)