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VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI urged an end to “religious hypocrisy” and “rivalry” in the Catholic Church as he donned his papal mitre for the last time for an emotional mass in St. Peter’s Basilica yesterday.
The 85-year-old Pope was hailed with a standing ovation and waves of applause from a congregation of thousands where many broke down in tears, as cardinals doffed their mitres in a final gesture of respect.
Wearing the purple robes of Lent — a period of penitence for Christians — the Pope was conveyed through the basilica’s vast nave on a mobile platform that underlined his growing infirmity.
Benedict called for greater sincerity in his final mass as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics before he becomes only the second pontiff to resign voluntarily in the Church’s 2,000-year history.
He condemned “religious hypocrisy” and urged an end to “individualism and rivalry”.
“The face of the Church ... is at times disfigured. I am thinking in particular of the sins against the unity of the Church,” he said, a possible reference to the many scandals plaguing the institution.
The pope cut short the applause at the end of mass, saying “Let’s return to prayer”, before leaving the basilica, waving and smiling at the congregation.
Earlier, the frail pontiff was greeted by chants of “Benedetto” and a banner reading “Thank You, Holiness” at his weekly audience with thousands of believers in a Vatican auditorium.
Benedict told the crowd he had taken his momentous decision “for the good of the Church”. “Keep praying for me, for the Church and for the future pope,” he said, his voice full of emotion.
Wearing his workaday white cassock and skullcap, the pontiff said he could feel the faithful’s love “almost physically in these difficult days”. The Vatican announced that cardinal electors — the princes of the Church — will meet on March 15 or soon after to choose Benedict’s successor.
“The beginning of the conclave cannot be before March 15,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. “We have to expect a conclave starting on the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th or 19th.” Rumours have begun flying over front-runners to succeed Benedict, but no clear favourite has emerged yet and the decision will be up to the 117 elector cardinals. AFP