Thursday was Joseph Ratzinger’s last day as Pope.
Pope Benedict XVI has been flown out of Vatican on the final day of his eight year reign, just hours before the tenure elapses.
The 85-year-old pontiff travelled by helicopter to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo, 25 kilometers from the Italian capital, Rome, where he will spend his post-papacy years as the first Pope to resign in more than 600 years.
His tenure, marred by sex abuse scandals, and according to the Pope himself, infighting, came to an end exactly 19:00 GMT (8 p.m. Nigerian time).
The Pope’s deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will be in charge of the Catholic Church, until a new Pope is elected in March. 115 cardinals will meet in Rome on Monday to plan the election of the next Pope.
Addressing the cardinals on Thursday at a farewell meeting, Benedict vowed to obey and revere whoever his successor will be amongst the cardinals.
“Before greeting you individually, I would like to tell you that I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the coming days,” he said in a speech in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. “Among you is the future pope, to whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience.”
The moment ahead of and during the Pope’s departure have been filled with emotions around the world with pictures of faithfuls wailing.
Church bells rang as the pontiff boarded the helicopter shortly after 16:00 local time, news media report.
Before that, applause rippled around the Vatican as the Pope was greeted for the last time by top officials in the Curia – the administrative body that runs the Holy See, the BBC said.
The Pope landed at Castel Gandolfo about 15 minutes later. He then appeared at a window overlooking the public square in Castel Gandolfo to bless a crowd.
As the first Pope to quit in six centuries, details of his future emerged this week.
The resignation as pope will be marked by the dismissal of the Swiss Guards at the gate of Castel Gandolfo, who will march back to the Vatican.
The Pope will be addressed as “pope emeritus” and will retain his papal name, Benedict XVI, not reverting to his cardinal name, Joseph Ratzinger.
He will wear a simple white cassock without the trimmings; and swap his famous red shoes – the colour is symbolic of the blood of the early Christian martyrs – for brown.
His ‘Fisherman’s Ring’, the special signet ring which contains the Pope’s name and is impressed to validate certain official documents, is expected to be destroyed along with the lead seal of the pontificate, the BBC adds.