On February 11, 2013 Benedict XVI changed the course of the papacy with these unexpected words.
"Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome”.
The Pope explained that, "In order to govern the boat of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
His resignation was valid because he made it with a clear and conscious mind, and before a well- qualified group. It would go into effect 17 days later, on February 28 at 8PM.
The Vatican spokesperson immediately summoned the media to provide more details.
FR. FEDERICO LOMBARDI
"On the 28, at around five in the evening, the Pope will take off on helicopter to Castel Gandalfo. We already knew he would go to Castel Gandolfo, but now we know the exact time. Afterward, the Sede Vacante will start at eight o'clock.”
His first public appearance after his shocking announcement was the General Audience two days later. He look fragile, but relieved.
"Thank you... Continue to pray for me, for the Church and the future Pope. The Lord will guide him.”
On February 13, he celebrated his last Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. The day was Ash Wednesday. The only dry eyes in the entire building belonged to Benedict XVI
CARD. TARCISIO BERTONE
Vatican Secretary of State
"Thank you for having given us a bright example of a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord, a worker, however, that has known at each moment to do what was most important: bring God to man and man to God.”
"For me it is a proper moment to thank everyone, especially the faithful from the Diocese of Rome, while I prepare to conclude the Petrine ministry, and to ask to remember me in prayer.”
The thunderous applause continued up until Benedict XVI himself intervened.
"Let us return to prayer.”
These days were full of tension for journalists world wide. The Vatican spokesperson thanked them for their work, but he protested that some media described the conclave as an internal power struggle.
Even the Secretariat of State protested that the cardinals were being pressured with "false or unverifiable” information against certain people and institutions.
FR. FEDERICO LOMBARDI
"Many cases are getting away from the truth, and sometimes there is a lack of tone and dignity.”
In the last Angelus for Benedict XVI, St. Peter's Square was at total capacity. Some people even climbed on to nearby roofs on Via della Conciliazione to catch a glimpse of Benedict XVI as he looked out the window for the last time as Pope.
"If God is asking this of me, it's precisely to continue serving the Church with the same dedication and love with which I have served so far, but in a way that's more suited for my age and strength.”
Before his resignation, Benedict XVI made two important decisions. The first was that only his successor would have access to a report three cardinals had prepared on the status of the Curia, as a result of the Vatileaks scandal. Second, he amended a law for the conclave to give cardinals the choice on what day to start.
MSGR. PIER LUIGI CELATA
"It gives the College of Cardinals, the power to move the date of the Conclave before this window. That is, if all cardinal electors are in Rome.”
His last official act as Pope was to greet all the cardinals assembled in Rome. During this time he also made a defining statement.
"Among you, in the College of Cardinals is the future Pope, to whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience.”
This greeting would be historic.
At five in the evening, local time in Rome, Benedict XVI boarded a helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, where he would spend the next few months.
Bells rung out across Rome to bid him farewell. For 16 minutes, he flew over the Eternal City. Once he arrived at Castel Gandolfo, another large crowd was waiting to hear his last words as Pope.
"I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.”
At 8 p.m., local time, Benedict XVI's resignation went into effect. The Swiss Guards, now at the service of the College of Cardinals, abandoned their post at Castel Gandolfo. At that same time, all high-ranking posts at the Vatican became empty, except for the Camerlengo, the Major Penitentiary and the Vicar of Rome. The Sede Vacante was officially underway.