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Vatican Pope

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Looking tired but serene, Pope Benedict XVI told thousands of faithful Wednesday that he was stepping down for “the good of the church,” speaking in his first public appearance since dropping the bombshell announcement of his resignation.

The 85-year-old Benedict basked in more than a minute-long standing ovation when he entered the packed audience hall for his traditional Wednesday general audience. He was interrupted by applause by the thousands of people, many of whom had tears in their eyes.

A huge banner reading “Grazie Santita” (Thank you Your Holiness) was strung up at the back of the hall.

Benedict appeared wan and spoke very softly, but his eyes twinkled with joy at the flock’s warm and heartfelt welcome. He repeated in Italian what he had told his cardinals Monday in Latin: that he simply didn’t have the strength to continue.

“As you know, I have decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me on April 19, 2005,” he said, to applause. “I did this in full liberty for the good of the church.”

He asked the faithful “to continue to pray for the pope and the church.”

Benedict is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years, and the decision has placed the Vatican in uncharted waters: No one knows what he’ll be called or what he’ll wear after Feb. 28.

The Vatican, however, has made it clear that Benedict will play no role in the election of his successor, and once retired, he will be fully retired. He plans to live a life of prayer in a converted monastery on the far northern edge of the Vatican gardens.

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