Vatican City: Pope Benedict XVI waved a final goodbye on Thursday from the balcony of the papal residence before starting a life of retirement as the first pontiff to resign in over 700 years.
“I will no longer be pope but a simple pilgrim who is starting out on the last part of his pilgrimage on this Earth,” the pope told thousands of cheering supporters from the balcony of the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo near Rome.
“I am happy to be with you surrounded by the beauty of creation. Thank you for your friendship and affection,” said the frail but smiling 85-year-old, dressed in the white papal cassock.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics earlier left the Vatican in a white helicopter emblazoned with the Vatican flag, seeing St Peter’s Basilica from the sky for the last time as pope.
The bells of St Peter’s rang out to mark the historic event as the pope took leave of his closest aides in an emotional ceremony in the Vatican where he was applauded and cheered by priests, nuns and liveried Swiss Guards.
“Thank you for your love and support,” the pope said in a final tweet sent from his @pontifex Twitter account just before taking off.
“May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”
The Twitter account will now be suspended until a new pope is elected in a conclave next month.
The Swiss Guards - a military corps that has protected the papacy since the 15th century and is best known for its brightly-coloured uniforms - will then leave their posts and return to Rome.