Pope Benedict leaves Vatican; Conclave to begin soon

The Catholic Church bid a historic and carefully choreographed farewell today for Pope Benedict the 16th.

Before leaving the Vatican, 144 of the world’s 207 cardinals greeted him for the last time as leader of the Catholic Church.  He told the cardinals, “It’s been a joy to walk with you during these years, in the presence of God.”  He spent a minute or two with each cardinal, including Chicago’s Frances Cardinal George.

About 10 a.m. Chicago time, Pope Benedict boarded the Italian Air Force helicopter for a beautiful farewell journey leaving Rome as the sun was setting, a symbolic trip to his new temporary home in  Castel Gandolfo, a picture perfect lakeside estate about 15 miles southeast of Rome where he’ll live for the next  two months.  A crowd of more than 10,000 people gathered to greet him as he arrived.

Speaking in public for the last time as Pope, he gave his final blessing and thanked Catholics for years of love and support.  When the doors closed at 8 p.m. in Italy, he became Pope Emeritus,  the first pope to retire in 600 years.

Cardinals who are in Rome will soon enter conclave where they will elect the next pope. Theologians say it’s difficult to say who will be elected, and even more difficult to predict how he will lead the church moving forward.

Cardinals say the process won’t be easy.  Many of them say they will first spend time getting to know each other.  Of course there are front runners, but nothing is certain.

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