Published: February 25. 2013 4:00AM PST
Catholic faithful hold up a banner with pictures of Pope Benedict XVI and writing reading in Italian “Thank you" as they attend Benedict’s last Angelus prayer Sunday in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.
Benedict XVI gave his pontificate’s final Sunday blessing from his studio window to the cheers of tens of thousands of people packing St. Peter’s Square, but sought to reassure the faithful.
“But this doesn’t mean abandoning the church," he said, as many in the crowd looked sad at his approaching departure. “On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it (the church) with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength."
The 85-year-old Benedict is stepping down Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in 600 years, after saying he no longer has the mental or physical strength to vigorously lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Riccardo De Luca / The Associated Press