Pope Benedict XVI to bid Catholics farewell in St Peter's on Feb 27

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI will bid his followers farewell in a final audience in St Peter's Square on February 27, the day before he officially steps down, a Vatican spokesman said today.

"The last general audience will be held in the square since a lot of people will come," Federico Lombardi said at a press briefing.

Lombardi also said the pope's traditional Ash Wednesday mass on February 13 would be his last major religious ceremony as pope together with other prelates.

The mass, which marks the start of a period of penitence before Easter for Christians, will be held in St Peter's Basilica instead of a smaller Rome church in order to accommodate large numbers of people expected because of the announcement.

"We suppose there will be a lot of people who will want to come and pray with the Holy Father and the cardinals and bishops," Lombardi said.

"A lot of cardinals will be important. It is an important concelebration. It is will be the Holy Father's last major concelebration with the public present," he added.

Lombardi said the pope would also speak about his experiences during the reformist Second Vatican Council in the 1960s at an already scheduled meeting with parish priests from Rome on Thursday.

"This is an important moment, an embrace from the pope," he said.

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