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Pope Benedict XVI officially ended his tenure as the leader of the Catholic Church at 8 p.m. local time Thursday in the Vatican. He left the Vatican in a helicopter, leaving cardinals to figure out who his successor will be.
Pope Benedict, who will now be known as pope emeritus, shocked the world by announcing that he would voluntarily step down at the end of this month on Feb. 11. The 85-year-old cited poor health at the time, but the scandals surrounding the church have lead the Italian media to speculate on other reasons.
According to The New York Times, Benedict gave a speech before leaving via helicopter today. “Dear friends, I am happy to be with you! Thanks for your friendship and affection! You know this is a different day than others,” he told the crowd. Benedict also met with 100 cardinals, telling them, “Among you is also the future pope, whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience.”
Benedict will live in Castel Gandolfo for a few months, before moving back to the Vatican to live in an apartment within view of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Cardinals from around the world are gathering in the Vatican to vote on Benedict’s successor. According to CBS News, the conclave has to take place 15 days after a pope leaves office, but Benedict did change the rules so they can vote earlier. It is in their interest to chose one as soon as they can, since Holy Week starts on March 24 and if they want a pope to lead the church before Easter, one has to be in office by March 17.