Thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican for Pope Benedict’s final general audience.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke to a crowd of thousands cheering him in St Peter’s square, thanking them from the bottom of his heart for coming out to see him. He admitted he faced “choppy waters” during his eight years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, but says he was guided by God and felt his presence every day.
“I feel I need to thank God who guides the church and feeds faith. Right now my soul is open to embrace the entire church and I’d like to thank everybody for the help I have received”.
The 85 year old will retire tomorrow and will be the first pope to abdicate since Gregory XII in 1415. His successor will be chosen in a conclave to take place in March, before Holy Week in the lead up to Easter.
Pope Benedict told the crowd his papacy had been “a heavy burden” but he accepted it because he was sure that God would guide him.
At times he said he felt like “St Peter with his apostles on the Lake of Galilee”, making reference to the Biblical story when the disciples were battling against heavy waves and Jesus Christ appeared to them.
The surprise announcement of his abdication, that shocked Catholics around the world, has required the rules of electing a successor to be changed to allow the next pope to be chosen.
“I took this step [resignation] in full awareness of its gravity and novelty but with profound serenity of spirit,” he said in his address.
After Benedict XVI steps down, he will become known as “pope emeritus”.
Prime Minister David Cameron and party leaders at Westminster have praised the significance of the backing for same-sex marriage in England and Wales after a key Commons vote.
Cameron said the vote on Tuesday had been “an important step forward” and Labour leader Ed Miliband called it a “proud day”.
MPs voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill by 400 to 175, a majority of 225.
Voting lists show that 136 Conservatives – almost half of the party’s MPs – opposed the bill.
This figure included two cabinet ministers – Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Welsh Secretary David Jones – eight junior ministers, and eight whips.
MPs were given a free vote on the bill, meaning they were not ordered to vote a particular way by party whips.
Their decision to back the bill is a milestone for gay couples all over the country. The legislation will now receive more detailed parliamentary scrutiny.
If it becomes law, the bill will enable same-sex couples, who are currently able to engage in civil partnerships, to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies -with the consent of religious institutions.
Tuesday’s vote was a big moment but it has got further stages to pass in the parliamentary process.
Some think the vote has challenged David Cameron’s authority leaving disaffected tory members in his party, possibly weakening his leadership but the Prime Minister has openly admitted that he thinks marriage should be open to all and defines the passing of the gay marriage bill as a defining moment in his modernising mission.