VATICAN CITY — The last days of Pope Benedict XVI will include three public appearances, a meeting with the priests of Rome, Lenten spiritual exercises and audiences with politicians and cardinals.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi detailed the final events of the Pope’s schedule for the press at a Feb. 13 meeting.
The first event on the list is Ash Wednesday Mass this evening in St. Peter’s Basilica, which will be his final concelebration of the liturgy.
It was originally slated to take place at Santa Sabina Basilica on Rome’s Aventine Hill, in keeping with tradition, but the timing of the Pope’s announcement dictated that the Mass will take place in St. Peter’s.
On Thursday, Pope Benedict will meet in Paul VI Hall with the clergy of the Diocese of Rome and reflect on the Second Vatican Council.
Three politicians will have the chance to meet with the Pope before he leaves office. The president of Romania will be received on Feb. 15, while Guatemala’s president and the Italian Sen. Mario Monti will be granted audiences on Feb. 16.
Two groups of bishops from Italy — one from Liguria and the other from Lombardi — will have a chance to talk with Pope Benedict as part of their ad limina visit that happens every five years. Their audiences will be on the 15th and 16th, respectively.
As he does every Lent, the Holy Father will participate in a week of spiritual exercises, which will begin on Feb. 17 at 6pm. This year, the reflections for the retreat will be offered by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the head of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
The spiritual exercises will end on Feb. 23, and the Pope will deliver a short speech at that time.
As he heads into his final days as Pope, Benedict XVI will offer his final Sunday Angelus reflection on Feb. 24. On Monday, Feb. 25, he will grant private hearings to some cardinals.
His final public appearance will be the general audience on Feb. 27, which was originally planned for Paul VI Hall, but is being moved to St. Peter’s Square because of the large number of people expected.
On his last day as Pope, the Holy Father will be greeted by cardinals at 11am, and then, at 5pm, he will quietly move to Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence.
At 8pm on Feb. 28, the See of Peter will officially become vacant. Preparations for the conclave of cardinals to elect his successor will begin on March 1.