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Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his final Ash Wednesday mass, and possibly his last public mass this morning.

It was the Pope’s first public appearance since Monday’s stunning announcement that he will retire at the end of the month rather than serve until his death, as Popes have done for the last six centuries.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the solemn Lenten season.

The service was moved inside the Vatican from its usual venue, a church in Rome, to spare the 85-year-old Pope the traditional procession and to accommodate the larger than normal crowds.