Benedict’s last day

Stop and say a prayer for Pope Benedict XVI at 1 p.m. U.S. Central Time Zone on Thursday, February 28.  At that moment he will become “pope emeritus,” and the throne of St. Peter becomes “sede vacante.”

Pope Benedict will meet with the cardinal-electors in the morning, and then he will be transported by helicopter to the papal summer residence at Castle Gandolfo, south of Rome.

As his final public act of his papacy, he will greet the faithful from the balcony. No doubt he will offer a blessing and ask for prayers for the cardinal-electors, too.

At 8 p.m. Italian time (1 p.m. in Kansas City), his retirement will become official and his protective detail of Swiss Guards will depart, being replaced by Vatican police.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI will remain at Castle Gandolfo while the cardinal-electors choose his successor from among themselves. Later, he will return to the Vatican City State to take up residence at a monastery being renovated for his use. There, he has said he will live a life of prayer and contemplation.

Nevertheless, he will always serve the church, as he stated in his final general audience today, Feb. 27:

“‘Always’ is also ‘forever’ — there is no return to private life. My decision to renounce the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I am not returning to private life, to a life of trips, meetings, receptions, conferences, etc. I am not abandoning the cross, but am remaining beside the Crucified Lord in a new way. I no longer bear the power of the office for the governance of the Church, but I remain in the service of prayer, within St. Peter’s paddock, so to speak. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example to me in this. He has shown us the way for a life that, active or passive, belongs wholly to God’s work.”