Vatican prepares momentous papal transition

Vatican

The Vatican prepared for a momentous transition after Pope Benedict XVI announced he will resign on February 28, starting with a special mass tomorrow and culminating in a final farewell in St Peter's Square on the eve of his departure.

The rumour mill over a successor was into full swing after what will be only the second voluntary papal resignation in the Catholic Church's 2,000-year history, although no clear favourite has emerged.

The 85-year-old Benedict told cardinals in a speech in Latin yesterday that he will step down after just eight years because he could no longer fulfil his duties in a fast-changing world.

Benedict will have no influence on the election of his successor - he is too old to be eligible to vote. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Vatican had not yet decided what title the pope will have once he resigns, but said among those being considered was "Bishop Emeritus of Rome".

The Vatican said the pope had an operation to replace the batteries in his pacemaker but said the surgery had no bearing on his decision, amid speculation that the resignation was due to health reasons. The Holy See has emphasised that Benedict's decision part of a long thought process.

Lombardi said the pope's Ash Wednesday mass, which signals the start of a period of penitence before Easter in the Christian calendar, would exceptionally be held in St Peter's Basilica instead of a smaller Rome church.

"It is an important concelebration.

It will be the Holy Father's last major concelebration with the public present," Lombardi said at a press briefing, referring to a type of mass held by the pope together with senior Church figures.

At a meeting with Rome parish priests on Thursday, the outgoing pope is expected to speak about his personal experiences during the reformist Second Vatican Council in the 1960s which changed the face of the Roman Catholic Church. Then on February 27 there will be a general audience held in St Peter's Square.

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