Vatican City, Feb 28, 2013 / 09:37 am
Pope Benedict XVI has left the Vatican by helicopter and will soon arrive in the town of Castel Gandolfo where he will live for two months.
Staff from the pontifical household, senior cardinals, senior members of the Secretariat of State, and all the Swiss guards lined up in front of the St. Damaso courtyard for their final goodbye.
He was then driven from the courtyard to the heliport where he boarded the helicopter, which left at 5:05 p.m. Rome time.
The helicopter carries the logo "Reppublica Italiana" because the Italian airforce helps support state trips made by the Pope.
He traveled on the helicopter with his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, his second secretary Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, the papal doctor Patrizio Polisca and the papal valet Sandro Mariotti.
They are flying 15 miles southeast of Rome, where he will be received by the town's mayor, Maurizio Colacchi.
He will also be received by the local parish priest, the director of the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, Cardinal Bertello, and Bishops Sciacca and Semeraro.
Hundreds of pilgrims gathered at St. Peter's Square at 4:00 p.m., before Pope Benedict XVI's departure to pray for him and for his new successor.
This morning he met with 144 cardinals, heads of the Curia and members of the Holy See's liturgy office in a formal meeting with them this morning.
At around 5:30 p.m. Pope Benedict will greet pilgrims from the balcony of his villa in Castel Gandolfo, making his last public appearance as Pope.
The Catholic Church will have no Pope as of 8 p.m. local time today.
At that time the Swiss guards, who symbolically protect the Pope, will leave their stations at the villa gate.
Cardinals from around the world have been arriving to Rome this week, and it is expected they will meet in the New Synod Hall sometime early next week to begin discussing the Church's affairs and the selection of a new Pope.
Their first meeting could result in fixing the date of the conclave.
There are 115 cardinals who will vote, but the ones who are over the voting age of 80 can also participate in the meetings before the conclave.