VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI told the hundreds of thousands of people who came to his final general audience Feb. 27 that he is filled with trust and peace as he prepares to resign because the Church is not his, but God’s, and he will “not let it sink.”
“In this moment,” the Pope said, “there is in me a great trust because I know, we all know, that the word of truth of the Gospel is the strength of the Church; it is her life. … This is my trust; this is my joy.”
The Pope made his way through St. Peter’s Square in his popemobile and was welcomed by cheering throngs of pilgrims from all over Europe and abroad.
“The heart of a pope,” he told the assembly, “reaches out to the entire world. I would like my greeting and my thanks to reach all people.”
Benedict XVI will abdicate the Chair of St. Peter tomorrow; and, at that time, the Church will be without a pope.
His impending departure led the Pope to reflect on his last eight years as the successor of St. Peter, whom Jesus called to be a fisher of men.
“When, on April 19 nearly eight years ago, I accepted to assume the Petrine ministry, I had the firm certainty that has always accompanied me. In that moment, as I have already expressed many times, the words that resounded in my heart were: ‘Lord, what are you asking of me? This is a great burden that you place on my shoulders, but if you ask it of me, on your word, I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me.’
“And the Lord has truly guided me; he has been close to me. I have been able to perceive his presence daily. It has been a piece of the path of the Church that has had moments of joy and light, but also moments that were not easy,” the Pope told the crowd.
He also said he “felt like St. Peter and the apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee.The Lord has given us so many days of sun and light wind, days in which the catch was abundant; there have also been moments in which the waters were agitated, and the wind blew contrary, as in all of the history of the Church, and the Lord appeared to be sleeping.
“But I have always known that in that boat there was the Lord, and I have always known that the barque of the Church is not mine; it is not ours; but it is his [Christ's]. And he does not let it sink. It is him who steers it, certainly also through the men he has chosen, because he has wanted it this way,” the Pope stated.
Because God guides and protects the Church, Pope Benedict said that “today my heart is full of thanks to God because he has never made his consolation, his light, his love be absent from the entire Church or from me.”
He also told the crowd that he carries “all of you in my prayer, in a present that is that of God, where I gather up every encounter, every trip, every pastoral visit.
“Everything and everyone, I gather up in prayer to entrust them to the Lord, so that we might have full awareness of his will, with every wisdom and spiritual intelligence, and so that we may act in a way that is deserving of him, of his love, bringing fruit in every good work.”
Pope Benedict also demonstrated the depth of his pastoral heart by telling the sea of pilgrims that he “would like every person to feel loved by that God that gave his Son for us and who has showed his boundless love for us. I would like everyone to feel the joy of being Christian.”
He finished the main part of his remarks by saying, “In these last few months, I have felt my strength has diminished, and I asked God insistently in prayer to illuminate me with his light to help me to make the most just decision, not for my good, but for the good of the Church."
“I took this step in full knowledge of its gravity and also novelty,” he said, adding that it was also “with a profound serenity of soul."
“Loving the Church means also having the courage to make difficult and painful choices, keeping always the good of the Church at the fore and not our own,” Pope Benedict stressed.
His final public audience as pope will take place tomorrow at Castel Gandolfo. The local mayor, parish priest, bishop and the faithful will welcome Benedict XVI to his residence. After that, he will give one last speech from the window that overlooks the courtyard of the residence.