There is neither sadness, neither regret, nor nostalgia even on St. Peter's Square. On the day of Pope Benedict XVI's final general audience, among the tens of thousands of faithful there were smiling faces and a few tears, not from sorrow but from emotion. When he first emerged in his Popemobile, Benedict was greeted with an explosion of applause before he stopped to hold and kiss a baby.
If the faithful feared Benedict would disappear forever, words of comfort from the outgoing pontiff said otherwise. "I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord," he told those gathered at St. Peter's Square. "I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds."
His words, reassuring and not formal, were aimed directly at the heart of so many different people from all over the world, of all ages, united by a historical event.
He did speak of the testing times, comparing it to a noted Biblical passage. "[These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: [...] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been."
In the end though, he showed gratitude to the faithful: "I thank each and every one of you for the respect and understanding with which you have welcomed this important decision."
And the reasons, real or imagined, of this decision now take a back seat in the face of a man who will continue to wear white as a Pope, but a few hours will be called 'Papa Emeritus'.