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Pope Benedict XVI left Vatican City for the last time Thursday. He will return — not as Pope Benedict XVI, but as pope emeritus — a retired man. Hours later, Benedict became the first pope in about 600 years to retire.
He emerged late in the afternoon from the Apostolic Palace, walking with the help of a cane, for a short car ride to a waiting helicopter that would fly him into the next chapter of his life.
Benedict and a few of his closest aides climbed into the Italian Air Force helicopter for the short flight to the town of Castel Gandolfo, about 15 miles away.
As his helicopter took off, the final tweet on the pope’s official account, @Pontifex, was issued:
Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives. — Benedict XVI (@Pontifex) February 28, 2013
After the short flight from the Vatican to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo, he emerged minutes after arriving onto a balcony overlooking a square below the residence, which has been used by pontiffs to escape the heat of Rome for centuries.
“Thank you for your friendship, for your affection,” said Benedict, in his last public appearance as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. “I will only be the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church until 8 p.m. and then no longer. I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth.”
“Thank you and good night, to everyone, thank you,” Benedict concluded, before turning and walking back into the sprawling complex, disappearing from public eyes.
Benedict is expected to spend about two months at the private retreat, surrounded by 135 acres of picturesque, private gardens, before moving into an apartment still being prepared in a convent within the Vatican campus walls
The Vatican wasted no time reflecting that on his official Twitter account.
All of his tweets were deleted on the social network (though an archive preserves them here), his picture has been replaced with the papal seal, and the account’s name is now “Sede Vacante.” That last phrase is Latin for “the seat being vacant,” asjournalist Gio Benitez pointed out.
The scrubbing of tweets and other changes would seem to suggest the account is not shutting down completely, contrary to an earlier report. It has accumulated 1.6 million followers since launching in December, so it would seem wise for the Catholic Church to pass those on to the next Pope.
Indeed, Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, confirmed that the papal account will be inactive until a new Pope is chosen, “not shut down,” Alex Kantrowitz reported for Forbes.
Pope Benedict XVI was notably the first Pope to have a Facebook and Twitter account.