Today the Holy Father said an emotional, moving goodbye to tens of thousands of the faithful in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, as well as to the one billion Catholics throughout the world who call him shepherd. The crowd was vibrant and alive, and the Holy Father said so himself, remarking early in his remarks: “La Chiesa è viva!” (“The Church is alive!”) It was also a remarkably beautiful February morning in Rome, for which the Pope thanked God our Creator.
I feel I [ought to] carry everyone in prayer, in a present that is God’s, where I recall every meeting, every voyage, every pastoral visit. I gather everyone and everything in prayerful recollection, in order to entrust them to the Lord: in order that we might have full knowledge of His will, with every wisdom and spiritual understanding, and in order that we might comport ourselves in a manner that is worthy of Him, of His, bearing fruit in every good work (cf. Colossians 1:9-10).
At this time, I have within myself a great trust [in God], because I know – all of us know – that the Gospel’s Word of Truth is the strength of the Church: it is her life. The Gospel purifies and renews; it bears fruit wherever the community of believers hears and welcomes the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my faith, this is my joy.
When … I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry …the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me? It is a great weight that you place on my shoulders, but, if You ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” – and the Lord has really guided me. He has been close to me: daily I could feel his presence. [These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments of joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat in the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been – and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in his barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He destined it to be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.
I would like to invite everyone to renew firm trust in the Lord. I would like that we all entrust ourselves as children to the arms of God, and rest assured that those arms support us and us to walk everyday, even in times of struggle. I would like everyone to feel loved by the God who gave His Son for us and showed us His boundless love. I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian. A beautiful prayer to be recited daily in the morning says, “I adore you, my God, I love you with all my heart, I thank you for having created me, for having made me a Christian.” Yes, we are happy for the gift of faith: it is the most precious good, that no one can take from us! Let us thank God for this everyday, with prayer and a coherent Christian life. God love us, but He also expects that we love Him!
In recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God with insistence in prayer to enlighten me with His light to make me take the right decision – not for my sake, but for the good of the Church. I have taken this step in full awareness of its severity and also its novelty, but with a deep peace of mind. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, trying choices, having ever before oneself the good of the Church and not one’s own.
The “always” is also a “forever” – there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, shall be a great example in this for me. He showed me a way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.
I ask you to remember me before God, and above all to pray for the Cardinals, who are called to so important a task, and for the new Successor of Peter, that the Lord might accompany him with the light and power of the Holy Spirit.
In the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that He does not abandon us, that He is near to us and that He surrounds us with His love.