Pope Benedict XVI Marks Last Day As Pontiff

Thursday marked a new beginning for the church as Pope Benedict XVI departed The Vatican and Catholics around the world wonder what's next as cardinals gather to elect a new leader.

Dressed in a red velvet robe, outgoing Pope Benedict spent his final day meeting with the cardinals at the Apostolic Palace. He spoke one-on-one with those who will elect his successor, including Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.

In his final tweet, the pope wrote: " Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} @Pontifex: Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."

On Wednesday, tens of thousands of the faithful packed into St. Peter's Square to see the outgoing pope make his final appearance. He talked candidly about the papacy being a "great burden" and the loss of privacy, though he left no doubt about why he's leaving.

At 85 years old, he explained his retirement is for the church's good as his strength diminishes.

"Loving the church also means to have the courage to make difficult and arduous choices, having always in front of us the good of the church and not ourselves," he said.

Cardinals won't likely set a timeline for the conclave to choose the next pope until next week, but clearly discussions are taking place in advance.

"Since we're already in Rome we're already talking," Cardinal George said. "You could see if you at the audience all the cardinals were up there weren't just talking about the weather."

After meeting with all of his Cardinals, Pope Benedict left the Apostolic Palace by helicopter for the summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. Castel Gandolfo will be his temporary residence until his new home at the Vatican is ready, one he describes as a place hidden from the world.

The Swiss Guards standing at attention in Castel Gandolfo shut the gates of the palazzo shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday (2 p.m. EST), symbolically closing the doors on a papacy whose legacy will be most marked by the way it ended — a resignation instead of a death. 

The big question now is who will be the new pope. Many expect someone younger and more media savvy to appeal to the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

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