(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Benedict XVI bade his final farewell to the faithful Thursday, lifting off from the Vatican in a white helicopter as the first pope to resign in six centuries.
Just before 5 p.m. local time, Benedict, 85, walked out of the Vatican for the last time as pope, waving to a cheering crowd in the Courtyard of San Damaso as he entered a black Mercedes for the short drive to a nearby heliport.
In a tweet sent from @Pontifex as his motorcade rolled to the heliport, Benedict said, "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."
At the conclusion of the day’s events, the pope’s various Twitter accounts were cleared of all previous tweets and references to Benedict. The Twitter profile photo was changed and the display name now reads “Sede Vacante,” Latin for “vacant seat.”
With church bells ringing across Rome, he then embarked on the 15-minute flight to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence just south of the city and his home for the coming months when he'll be recognized by the church as His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus.
When Benedict landed in the gardens at Castel Gandolfo, he was greeted by a group of dignitaries, including the governor of the Vatican City state Giovanni Bertello, two bishops, the director of the pontifical villas, and the mayor and parish priest. Off the helicopter and back into a car, Benedict headed to the palace.
In the plaza at Castel Gandolfo, a crowd of supporters, many waving flags or banners, some peering out of windows, gathered to welcome Benedict. When Benedict finally appeared on the balcony, the crowd erupted in applause.
"Thank you for your friendship, your affection," Benedict told them.
Benedict said he was "just a pilgrim starting the last lap of his earthly journey."
After his brief address to the crowd, Benedict waved one last time and walked back into the palace as the sun set around the square.
In his final remarks earlier in the day to colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict had promised "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his eventual successor.
Benedict, in a morning meeting at the Vatican, urged the cardinals to act "like an orchestra" to find "harmony" moving forward.
Benedict spent a quiet final day as pope, bidding farewell to his colleagues and moving on to a secluded life of prayer, far from the grueling demands of the papacy and the scandals that have recently plagued the church.
His first order of business was a morning meeting with the cardinals in the Clementine Hall, a room in the Apostolic Palace. Despite the historical nature of Benedict's resignation, not all cardinals attended the event.
Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, thanked Benedict for his service to the church during the eight years he has spent as pontiff.
In his final address to the faithful as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict Wednesday said his decision to resign was "the fruit of a serene trust in God's will and a deep love of Christ's Church."
Before a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square, Benedict said he was "deeply grateful for the understanding, support, and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also throughout the world."
The date of the conclave to determine Benedict's successor has yet to be determined. In one of his last moves as pope, Benedict issued a decree permitting the cardinals to convene the conclave before the March 15 date that would have been required under the old rules.
Benedict is eventually planning to move to a monastery inside Vatican City once work there is finished, but until then he will call home the palace at Castel Gandolfo. He will be known as "pope emeritus" and don brown shoes given to him on his trip to Mexico, rather than the red ones he wore as pontiff.
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