In his last Sunday blessing before he retires, Pope Benedict XVI reassured Catholics that he was not abandoning them but would
continue to serve the church even in his retirement.
Romans, pilgrims and curious tourists filled St. Peter's Square on Sunday for Benedict's second-to-last public appearance before he steps down Thursday, the first pope in six centuries to do so willingly.
Reading from prepared remarks as he stood at the window of the Apostolic Palace, Benedict said he was being called by God "to climb up on the mountain" and to dedicate himself more to "prayer and meditation."
"This doesn't mean abandoning the church," the pope added, to the applause of the crowd. "On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve" the church "with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength."
Cardinals from around the world have begun gathering in Rome to greet Benedict before he retires at 8 p.m. Thursday. The cardinals will discuss when to begin the conclave to elect his successor.
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