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.
PHOTOS: Pope Benedict XVI bids farewell to cardinals on final day
At a farewell ceremony with the black-robed, red-hatted cardinals Thursday morning, Benedict urged them to deepen their unity and harmony, “like an orchestra,” and said he would pray for God’s guidance in their choice of a pope.
He also pledged his allegiance to his eventual successor, in an apparent attempt to allay fears of conflicted loyalties in the church’s ranks because of the presence of both a reigning and a retired pope within the Vatican’s walls.
After his respite at Castel Gandolfo, Benedict will move into a renovated monastery in the Vatican Gardens, a stone’s throw from the papal apartment he used to occupy.
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