CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) – Benedict XVI, who began his papacy describing himself as a “humble servant in the Lord’s vineyard,” described his retirement as a time of being a “simple pilgrim, who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth.”
The 85-year-old pope arrived in Castel Gandolfo Feb. 28 about two-and-a-half hours before the end of his pontificate.
He planned to spend about two months at the papal villa south of Rome before moving into a former monastery in the Vatican Gardens.
The pope arrived in a helicopter from the Vatican and rode by car through the fields and formal gardens of the papal villa before reaching the residence.
Hours before he arrived, townspeople, pilgrims and visitors began filling the main square outside the papal residence. As they waited for the pope, they prayed the rosary.
As soon as he entered the residence, the pope went upstairs and, standing on the balcony overlooking the main square, he greeted the crowd.
“Dear friends, I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and by your friendship, which does me such good,” he told them.
“You know that for me, today is different than the days that have gone before. You know that I am no longer supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church – until 8 o’clock I will be, but not after that.”
“I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth,” he told them. “But with all my heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the church and humanity,” he told them.
Pope Benedict thanked the people for their support and asked them to continue to pray and work for the good of the church, too.
“With all my heart, I impart my blessing,” he told them, before giving a simple blessing, in Italian, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Enzo Romagnoli, who runs a deli near the papal villa, told Catholic News Service he was born during the pontificate of Pius XI. “Since then, I’ve seen all the popes here.”
“It both sad and beautiful” to have Pope Benedict in town as he retires, he said. “But we are honored to have him here.”
Romagnoli said when he travels and people ask him where he’s from, he responds “Castel Gandolfo,” and everyone knows where that is, which is an honor for such a small town.
Even half an hour after the pope had gone inside, a man dressed in a suit stood near the entrance to the villa with a sign, “Dear Pope, we are with you and we will miss you.”
Mauro Giovannucci, who runs a butcher shop in the main square, told CNS: “This is a unique event, a new experience of enthusiasm and joy. When the pope is here, even the air is more pleasant.”
He prayed that God would help Pope Benedict; “We all love him.”
As the pope arrived, two Swiss Guards stood at the main doors of the residence and two more stood just inside. Just after 8 p.m., when Pope Benedict’s papacy officially ended, they moved inside; the guard carrying the medieval halberd hung the weapon, and they closed the doors to the papal villa.
As the massive doors swung shut, people in the square shouted, “Viva il papa” (“Long live the pope”) and began applauding.
The Swiss Guards, who only guard serving popes, saluted the three Vatican police officers who took their place at the door. One of the Swiss Guards told CNS that they would change into street clothes and drive back to their barracks in the Vatican.
Throughout the evening and until the doors closed, about 20 people were across the square in the Church of St. Thomas, praying for the pope. They left the church only briefly to hear Pope Benedict’s final greeting and receive his blessing.