Pope Benedict gives last Sunday blessing at Vatican

The Pope offered thanks in a number of languages, including English

Pope Benedict XVI has given his final Sunday blessing at the Vatican before he steps down on Thursday.

In his last Angelus in St Peter's Square, he told thousands of cheering pilgrims his decision did not mean he was abandoning the Church.

Pope Benedict, 85, announced his resignation last week, saying ill-health meant he could not continue.

Cardinals are gathering to choose the next pope amid fears Church sex abuse scandals may overshadow the process.

Speaking from his balcony overlooking St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict used several different languages to salute the Catholics who had come to bid him farewell at the end of his eight-year reign.

He said he was following God's wishes in deciding to abdicate.

Start Quote

I am not abandoning the Church and shall continue to serve it in a manner more adapted to my age and strength”

End Quote Pope Benedict

"The Lord is calling me to climb the mountain - prayer is not an isolation from the world," he said.

"I am not abandoning the Church and shall continue to serve it in a manner more adapted to my age and strength," through prayer and meditation, he added.

Pope Benedict will hold his last public appearance as pope in the square on Wednesday before he retires to a life of seclusion and prayer.

Scandal

In total 117 Cardinals under the age of 80 from around the world have been called to the conclave to choose his successor.

The whiff of scandal involving a Scottish and a US Cardinal is overshadowing the transition to a new papacy, the BBC's David Willey in Rome says.

Some Catholics are calling on Cardinal Keith O'Brien from Scotland and Cardinal Roger Mahony, the former Archbishop of Los Angeles, to refrain from voting in next month's election.

Cardinal Mahony was stripped of his public duties last month over allegations he protected priests accused of sexual abuse.

Cardinal O'Brien has denied allegations of "inappropriate behaviour" going back 30 years.

The Vatican has denounced attempts to condition the freedom of all cardinal electors to choose who they want to lead the Church in future.

On Saturday a statement criticised the media for reporting "misinformation" about alleged intrigue and corruption in the church.

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