VATICAN CITY -- Benedict XVI's nearly eight-year papacy has ended, a transition to "pope emeritus" he marked at 8 p.m. Thursday in the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
Benedict flew by helicopter to the town south of Rome earlier in the day to spend the final hours of his reign and begin the first few weeks of his new life. He is the first pontiff to step down from office in six centuries.
As his chopper rose into the late-afternoon sky and buzzed over the Colosseum and other landmarks, the 85-year-old Benedict left behind weeping staff members, cheering well-wishers and a church beset by a crisis of authority in many parts of the world, an ongoing sex-abuse scandal and, now, a tense period of waiting.
The church’s cardinals are expected to hold their first meeting Monday to decide the date of the conclave to select Benedict's successor. About 115 cardinals, the “princes” of the church, will cast votes for a new leader.