Pope Benedict XVI has left the Vatican for the final time as leader of the Catholic Church as he has now officially retired.
He made the short journey to the papal retreat at Castel Gandalfo, where he appeared on the summer palace’s balcony to greet cheering and flag-waving crowds, before he officially ceased to be Pope at 7pm GMT.
At 7pm he became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The doors of the palazzo in Castel Gandolfo closed and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the world’s 1.2billion Catholics over – for now.
He chose to leave the Vatican by a white helicopter for the 15 minute flight to Castel Gandalfo instead of the half-hour car journey through the streets of Rome.
The pontiff was driven away in a black Mercedes under police escort to a helipad in the Vatican Gardens.
As the helicopter took flight, Swiss Guards appeared at the gates of the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandalfo, where he made a final appearance around 5pm GMT.
Benedict told them that he was ‘simply a pilgrim about to start his last journey on Earth’ and gave ‘a heartfelt thank you’ before disappearing inside the Apostolic Palace in the town.
‘Dear friends, I’m happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes, which do me such good.
‘Thank you for your friendship, and your affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 o’clock this evening and then no more.
‘I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth.
‘But I would still … thank you … I would still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength, like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your sympathy.
‘Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!’
The pope, walking with the aid of a cane, left his private apartments at the Vatican shortly before 4pm GMT, which will be sealed when his resignation takes effect tonight, and was greeted by the vicar of Rome and the vicar of the Vatican City.