VATICAN CITY — Italian authorities estimated that perhaps as many as 200,000 people turned out for Pope Benedict’s last public Angelus address today with people gathered in St. Peter’s Square. The square was already full when I squeezed my way in at 11:15, almost an hour before the pope was scheduled to appear.
There were flags from dozens of countries as well as hand-made signs saying “You are not alone” and giant banners saying “Thank you, Holy Father.”
The pope was interrupted a number of times by spontaneous applause, cheers and chants of “Long live the pope!”
Damien McDonnell from the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin in Ireland was leading a six-person family pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate the Year of Faith. He was one of several people who talked to CNS about this historic moment.
This is a blessing for us that we were able to come and say goodbye. (Pope Benedict’s) writings are so phenomenal and my first thought (upon hearing he was resigning) was ‘Please don’t stop writing!’ His work is so important for us and the for the church today…The next pope needs to be, to an extent, conservative, to say it like it is and not be indecisive, afraid to make decisions. Pope Benedict wasn’t afraid to make decisions and the new pope needs to follow the same line.
Hrvoje Mravak from Croatia is studying theology in Rome as he pursues a vocation with the Society of Jesus.
I am very grateful to the pope for what he has done. He is a great theologian who always highlighted the importance of prayer. I like his humility and, in his mind, his resigning is the best thing for the church. We are praying for him and the new pope. (The new pope) should adhere to doctrine, of course, he should be open to the many cultures in the world, be a man of prayer, a good communicator, and humble and spiritual.
The Aguirre family (one brother and two sisters) from Our Lady of Mercy parish in Daly City near San Francisco took off work to come to Rome for the pope’s last week as the head of the universal church. Balthazar said the thing he will miss most about Pope Benedict is how he was able to be “the rock: solid, strong and unwavering and yet kind and compassionate and loving at the same time.”
Maria Rosario Aguirre said:
He’s stepping down not because he doesn’t love us, but because he is aware of his age and is prepared to hand the job down to another younger person. I think (his retirement) will be a second vocation for him. He will have a hidden life that won’t be public, but his prayers will be a great help to the whole world. We won’t see him, but he will still have a real presence and impact.
Simone Rascioni of the Diocese of Rome said she thought the pope’s request for prayers from the faithful “was very beautiful. He’s like a father asking his children for support.”
During his pontificate, he gave me serenity. I saw him as being a very peaceful person, a man of truth who guides people along a clear path with — as a German — his logical rationale. He was able to be so sure of himself because he is a man of prayer, knowing that God was behind him.
When asked about the furor in the Italian press over claims of corruption and scandal within the Vatican, Simone said:
We are all human and people can make mistakes. Instead of criticizing, we need to pray, that’s the responsibility of a person of faith. It doesn’t mean deny or hide from the mistakes, but criticism only destroys. We need to see the truth and build anew starting with prayer. Pope Benedict is an example of this when he asked forgiveness (for the sexual abuse of children by clergy). We also have to remember and recognize there are lots of very good people in the church. Nobody notices or thanks them, the only thing that makes the news is when someone makes a mistake.