Pope's final speech: 'God won't let boat sink'

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Reluctant when he was elected, Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday afternoon (Wednesday morning in Rome), February 27, said God guided the Catholic Church throughout his rule as one of its oldest popes.

Comparing the Church to a boat, Benedict said: "I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His."

The Pope, who was 78 when cardinals elected him in 2005, said he held on to faith despite his initial worries related to age. "He shall not let His boat sink. It is He who steers her: to be sure, He does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish,” Benedict told a crowd of around 150,000.

The German-born Joseph Ratzinger recalled that on April 19, 2005, when he agreed to become pope, "the words that resounded in my heart were: 'Lord, what do you ask of me? It is a great weight that You place on my shoulders but, if You ask me, at Your word I will throw out the nets, sure that You will guide me.' And the Lord really has guided me."

"It is for this reason that today, my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love," Benedict said.

For the Church's 'good'

In his speech, Benedict also said he resigned – the first to do so in 600 years – with the Church's welfare in mind.

GOODBYE, BENEDICT. Over 50,000 people flock to St Peter's Square to bid Pope Benedict XVI farewell. Photo from AFP

GOODBYE, BENEDICT. Over 50,000 people flock to St Peter's Square to bid Pope Benedict XVI farewell.

Photo from AFP

He explained: "In recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God with insistence in prayer to enlighten me with His light to make me take the right decision – not for my sake, but for the good of the Church... Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, trying choices, having ever before oneself the good of the Church and not one’s own."

Benedict, however, said "there is no returning to private life."

"I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. 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," said the Pope, believed by Catholics to be the successor of St Peter, who led the apostles after Jesus' death.

For his 7-year papacy, he also thanked the cardinals and other administrators of Vatican City, as well as the members of the Roman diocese.

'Blame the cardinals'

Benedict has often spoken about his worries over the papacy.

HISTORIC MOMENT. Thousands of Catholics witness Benedict making history as the first pope to resign in 600 years. Photo from AFP

HISTORIC MOMENT. Thousands of Catholics witness Benedict making history as the first pope to resign in 600 years.

Photo from AFP

In his authorized biography Light of the World, Benedict admitted he was “sometimes concerned” and wondered “whether I can make it even from a purely physical point of view.”

“The trips are always very demanding for me. I actually don't get stage fright though, since everything is well-prepared. So I know that now, I am no longer speaking for myself, but that I am simply there for the Lord – and that I don't need to worry whether I look good, whether I am well-received, and that sort of thing,” Benedict said in his biography.

The book's author, veteran journalist Peter Seewald, also asked him if he feared being compared with his more charismatic predecessor, John Paul II.

Benedict answered: “I simply told myself that I am who I am. I don't try to be someone else. What I can give I give, and what I can't give I don't try to give, either... I am the person who happens to have been chosen – the cardinals are also to blame for that – and I do what I can.”

'Pontiff emeritus' soon

The Pope delivered this speech a day before he steps down, and takes on the title “pontiff emeritus.” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Benedict's presence “will in no way be an impediment, interference or a problem” for his successor.

Once Benedict officially leaves, the public will anticipate next the papal elections called the conclave. Modifying the Vatican's rules, Benedict on Monday, February 25, issued a special decree allowing cardinals to hold the conclave earlier than March 15.

In interviews with Rappler, Catholic Church members from various continents said this time around, they want a non-European pope. Majority of cardinal electors come from Europe, however, even as the continent suffers a steady decline in church membership. (Watch more in the video below.)

The Philippines' sole cardinal elector – Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Benedict's protege – has flown to Rome to join the conclave. He is part of the Asian minority that will elect the next pope. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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