Rome - Pope Benedict was praying and packing on Tuesday two days before his move out of the Vatican and into retirement where he will assume the title of “pope emeritus” and still be referred to as “your holiness”.
The Vatican said Benedict was spending a quiet Tuesday in the apostolic palace with no audiences.
“Today is a day dedicated to prayer and preparation for the events of the next two days,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said at a daily news briefing.
Lombardi said the pope was sifting through documents to see which will remain in the Vatican and go into the archives of his papacy and deciding which “are of a personal nature and which he will take to his new residence”.
Among the documents left for the next pope will be a confidential report by three cardinals into the “Vatileaks” affair last year when Benedict's former butler leaked private papers revealing corruption and in-fighting inside the Vatican.
The new pope will inherit a Church marked by Vatileaks and by child abuse scandals by priests in Europe and the United States, both of which may have weighed on Benedict's decision to decide he was too old and weak to continue the papacy.
The pope has two days left before he takes the historic step of becoming the first pontiff in some six centuries to step down instead of ruling for life.
Given the unique nature of the occasion, Vatican officials have had to find a title for the former pope, decide how he should be addressed and what he should wear.
After two weeks of consultations with aides, theologians and historians, the Vatican announced the status Benedict will assume after he is no longer leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church.
Benedict will be known as “pope emeritus Benedict XVI” or “Roman Pontiff emeritus Benedict XVI”, be addresses as “Your Holiness,” and be referred to as “His Holiness Benedict XVI”.
This means that after the election of the new pope next month there will be two men with the title “holiness” in the Vatican at the same time.
Benedict will lay aside the red “shoes of the fisherman” that have been part of his papal attire and wear brown loafers given to him by shoemakers during a trip to Leon, Mexico last year. He will wear a “simple white cassock”, Lombardi said.
Benedict's lead seal and his ring of office, known as the “ring of the fisherman”, will be destroyed according to Church rules, just as if he had died.
The Vatican released a detailed schedule of the pope's last two days on the “Throne of St. Peter”.
On Wednesday he will hold his last general audience, a weekly event which would normally be held in a vast auditorium in winter, but has been moved outdoors to St. Peter's Square so more people can attend.
Some 50,000 people have asked for tickets, which are free, but many more are expected to attend and stand at the back of the square.
Benedict will then meet some foreign leaders.
On Thursday, he will greet cardinals in Rome, many of whom have come to take place in the conclave to elect his successor.
That afternoon at 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) he will fly by helicopter to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo, a 15-minute journey south of Rome.
There, he will make an appearance from the window of the papal villa to greet residents and well-wishers expected to gather in the small square.
That will be Pope Benedict's last public appearance.
At 8 p.m. the Swiss Guards who stand as sentries at the residence will march off in a sign that the papacy is vacant.
Benedict will move into a convent in the Vatican in April, after it has been restored.
On Friday, cardinals in Rome will begin meetings known as “general congregations” to prepare for the secret conclave that will elect a new pope.
This week Benedict changed Church rules so that cardinals could begin the conclave earlier than the 15 days after the papacy becomes vacant, prescribed by the previous law.
The change means that the cardinals, in their pre-conclave meetings, can themselves decide when to start.
The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new pope elected by mid-March and installed before Palm Sunday on March 24 so he can preside at Holy Week services leading to Easter.
Cardinals have begun informal consultations by phone and email in the past two weeks since Benedict said he was quitting. - Reuters