It was a sentiment the retiring Benedict himself emphasized Wednesday when he told his flock that the “path of power is not the road of God.”
Benedict is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years, and the decision has placed the Vatican in uncharted waters: No one knows what he’ll be called or even what he’ll wear after Feb. 28.
The Vatican, however, revealed some details of his final day as pope, saying he would attend a morning farewell ceremony with his cardinals and then fly off by helicopter at 5 p.m. to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
Under that timetable, Benedict will be far from the Vatican when he ceases being pope at 8 p.m. — a deadline decided by Benedict himself because that’s when his normal workday ends.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said no formal or symbolic act was needed to make his resignation official at that time, because Benedict has already done all that was required to resign by affirming publicly he had taken the decision freely.
Benedict’s final official acts as pope will include audiences with the Romanian and Guatemalan presidents this week and the Italian president on Feb. 23.
Making sure the transition goes smoothly, Benedict made an important appointment Wednesday, naming the No. 2 administrator of the Vatican city state, Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, as a legal adviser to the camerlengo.
The camerlengo, or chamberlain, helps administer the Vatican bureaucracy in the period between Benedict’s resignation and the election of a new pope. The current camerlengo is Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state.
He and the dean of the College of Cardinals, his predecessor Cardinal Angelo Sodano, will have a major role in organizing the conclave, during which the 117 or so cardinals under the age of 80 will vote on who should succeed Benedict.
The Vatican has made clear that Benedict will play no role in the election of his successor, and once retired, he will be fully retired. He plans to live a life of prayer in a converted monastery on the far northern edge of the Vatican gardens.
But his continued physical presence within the Vatican walls has raised questions about how removed he really will be from the life of the church. Lombardi acknowledged that Benedict would still be able to see his friends and colleagues.
“I think the successor and also the cardinals will be very happy to have very nearby a person that best of all can understand what the spiritual needs of the church are,” Lombardi said.
Benedict is expected, however, to keep a low public profile.
As a result, Benedict’s final public appearances — his last general audience will be Feb. 27 — are expected to draw great crowds, as they may well represent some of the last public speeches for a man who has spent his life — as a priest, a cardinal and a pope — teaching and preaching.
And they will also give the faithful a way to say farewell under happier circumstances than when his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, died in 2005.