Pope Benedict says he is not "abandoning the church" but will serve it in "a way more suitable" to his age and strength.
The 85-year-old Benedict bestowed his final Sunday blessing of his pontificate on a cheering crowd in St. Peter's Square Sunday. In a strong and clear voice, Benedict told the pilgrims, tourists and Romans in the square that God had called him to dedicate himself "even more to prayer and meditation," which he will do in a monastery on the grounds behind Vatican City's ancient walls.
Police estimate the crowd at a 100,000 people and it appeared to energize Benedict. The pope repeatedly thanked the faithful for their closeness and affection as they interrupted him, again and again, with applause and cheers.
On Thursday evening, the 85-year-old German-born theologian will become the first pope to resign from the papacy in 600 years. Benedict will spend his last years in seclusion in a monastery on Vatican City's grounds.
He has one more public appearance, at his weekly audience on Wednesday in the square.