Pope attends final general audience in St. Peter's Square

February 27, 2013 9:19:51 PM PST
Cardinal George and many other Chicagoans are in Rome for the final public audience of Pope Benedict XVI.

Benedict made his final public speech as pontiff Wednesday, and a massive crowd, estimated at 150,000 was on hand.

This is the first time in more than 600 years that a pope's term has ended in resignation rather than death, and a number of Chicagoans made the pilgrimage to Rome for this historic occasion.

"It's a way of showing support, it's a way of saying, 'You've been a good pope and we love you and we wish you the best,'" Friar Gilberto Cavazos-Gonzalez of the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago said.

The lights were on late in the papal apartment and the world can only wonder what goes through a man's mind on his last night as pope. People below held a candlelight vigil in St. Peter's Square.

While Pope Benedict is now in his last hours as pope, the discussions have already begun informally among the cardinals in Rome regarding who should replace him. But first Wednesday, an opportunity for the public to say farewell.

Some were so excited they practically ran to see the pope -- like Chicago professor Lori King. She could hardly even slow down to speak about it.

"We're living in a moment of history that doesn't have a precedent," King said. "And, to be here, for my students, they arrived here at a moment that no one could have predicted."

Their reward: Seeing Pope Benedict in person, one last time, passing by slowly in the Popemobile, pausing to bless small children, then speaking candidly about the "great weight placed on his shoulders" as pope.

"To love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself," Benedict said to thundering applause.

"I think it's a very humble decision," said Phil Wozniak, who was in Rome from Champaign, Illinois. "He's recognizing his physical limitations, and once you reach a certain age as pope, you're not really running the church anymore, it's the people around you."

Francis Cardinal George Had a front row seat at the event. He knows well the pressures of the top job and that Benedict himself first resisted accepting it.

"It means that every moment of your life is taken by the church," said Cardinal George. "You're captive, in a way, to the position."