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Pope Benedict The 16th Steps Down Today
Pope Benedict the 16th will step down today after nearly eight years as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. Tens of thousands of followers are in Rome to witness history.
Cardinals stood and clapped for Pope Benedict the 16th as he met with them at the Vatican ahead of his historic resignation.
The pontiff blessed them and promised to show "unconditional reverence and obedience" to the next pope.
The 85-year old called for the church to remain united, and said he would continue to support cardinals in prayer.
Pope Benedict gave an emotional farewell to 150-thousand people in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday.
"It did mean a lot, to see the affection of the people, the appreciation of the crowd, it was touching," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Later today the Pope will take a ten minute helicopter ride to Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer retreat on the outskirts of Rome.
"He'll spend about a couple months there until there's a new pope of course, and until things are ready here. And then when he comes back here, he'll basically be spending it in a life of prayer in a convent on the Vatican grounds," said Senior Vatican Communications Advisor Greg Burke.
Most of the 115 cardinals who will choose Pope Benedict's successor are already in Rome. And speculation about who will be the next pope is spreading fast.
"I think he's probably gonna be from Africa or Latin America," said Lorenzo Church of North Carolina.
Pope Benedict, who was elected in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul the Second, said he is leaving because he is growing too old and frail.
Cardinals hope to elect a pope in time for the Holy Week of Easter -- which is now just a few weeks away.
No clear front-runner has emerged as Pope Benedict's successor. Italians make up the biggest group of electors. There has not been an Italian pope since John Paul the first died in 1978.