Pope thanks faithful, says he resigned in 'full liberty'
Vatican City - Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday thanked the public for their support and prayers, in his first public appearance since announcing his resignation.
"I did this in full liberty for the good of the Church, after praying for long and examining my conscience before God, fully aware of the gravity of such an act," Benedict said during his weekly audience in the Vatican City.
Hours before he spoke, the faithful flocked to the audience hall, which was packed to capacity with 12,000 people.
On Monday, Benedict said he would resign on February 28, citing advanced age and the strains of his job in an announcement that stunned Catholics worldwide. It will be the first papal resignation in almost 600 years.
"I thank all of you for the love and the prayers with which you supported me," the pope said, emphasizing that the past few days had been "not easy." Prayers have helped "almost physically," Benedict said.
He was frequently interrupted by applause. People held up a banner that read: "Thank You His Holiness." Later Wednesday, the pontiff was due to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, marking the start of Lent - the period of prayer and repentance leading up to Easter, which this year falls on March 31.
The Vatican says Benedict’s successor will be elected before Easter. The process is expected to start in mid-March.//DPA