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Benedict XVI leaves Vatican in pope helicopter, uses Twitter to say goodbye

The pope has left the building.

With much pomp and ceremony, Pope Benedict XVI left Vatican City on Thursday. An honor guard of his personal protection force, the Swiss Guards, lined the steps to his apartment to see him off, according to a report by CNN.

Bells chimed, and applause from the gathered thousands filled the air, as he climbed into a car for transport to a helicopter that took him to Castel Gandolfo, his summer papal residence, CNN said.

Previously, the pope sent a final tweet to his nearly 1.6 million followers: "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."

Earlier Thursday, he exhorted his cardinals to remain united, "like an orchestra" in total "agreement and harmony," according to a report by The Associated Press. He also promised to give them "unconditional reverence and obedience" throughout his retirement years, AP reported.

Come 8 p.m. sharp — or 2 p.m. Eastern Time — when Swizz Guards at the palazzo go off duty, the pope will have officially entered retirement. He's the first pope in 600 years to resign from office.

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