“I think the successor and also the cardinals will be very happy to have very nearby a person that best of all can understand what the spiritual needs of the church are,” Lombardi said.
Although Wednesday’s Mass, including the traditional blessing of the ashes, which are placed on the foreheads of worshipers to mark the beginning of Lent, was solemn, the pope’s earlier appearance had a decidedly more personal tone. At the general audience in the Vatican’s vast Paul VI hall, an emotive pope was serenaded in his native German by Italian schoolchildren and repeatedly interrupted by thunderous applause.
He stepped down, he told the crowd, “for the good of the church.”
“I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days, which are not easy for me,” he told the crowd. “The strength that the love of the church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future pope. The Lord will guide us.”