Pope Benedict XVI made his first public appearance since he surprised the world by announcing his resignation.
Benedict received a lengthy standing ovation and the CBC reports that he began his address by explaining his resignation. The CBC reports:
"'As you know, I have decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me on April 19, 2005,' he said, to applause. 'I did this in full liberty for the good of the church.'
"He thanked the faithful for their prayers and love, which he said he had 'physically felt in these days that haven't been easy for me.' And he asked them to 'to continue to pray for me, the church, and the future pope.'
"The atmosphere was festive and warm, if somewhat bittersweet, as if the crowd was trying to ask him to stay with them for just a bit longer. A chorus of Italian schoolchildren serenaded him with one of his favourite hymns in German — a gesture that won over the pope, who thanked them for singing a piece 'particularly dear to me.'"
Catholic News Service reports that Benedict "appeared tired but smiled frequently."
The pope also delivered Ash Wednesday service at St. Peter's Basilica. That is likely to be his last mass.
"The certainty that the church is Christ's and he will never cease guiding it and caring for it sustains me and enlightens me," the pope said. "I thank all of your for the love and prayers with which you have accompanied me."
Reuters reports the conclave — a meeting of all eligible cardinals — will start as early as March 15.