Pope Benedict XVI has greeted his cardinals for the last time as pontiff, beginning a quiet final day as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics before flying off into retirement.
No major speech was planned during Thursday's farewell to his closest advisers. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the cardinals, thanked Benedict for his service.
The Vatican says retiring Pope Benedict XVI will send his last tweet as pope around 5 p.m. Rome time (1600 GMT, 11 a.m. EST). That's also about the time he's set to leave the Vatican by helicopter to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says the pope's Twitter handle (at)Pontifex will then be `'in abeyance'' until the next pontiff is selected. He says it'll be up to the next leader of the Catholic Church as to whether or not he will use it.
Pope Benedict XVI, his dress soon to be limited to a simple white robe, has worn a ceremonial red cape for his final meeting with the College of Cardinals.
The short cape with ermine trim, known as a mozzetta, is worn for special occasions. And special this occasion was, coming just hours before Benedict becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign.
He looked out at the cardinals and said: ``Among you is the future pope.'' And he promised his ``unconditional reverence and obedience.''
Around 5 p.m., Benedict will leave the palace for the last time as pontiff, head to the helicopter pad on the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The doors of the palazzo will shut and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty.
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