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Lakhs gather in Vatican City for last public blessing of the Pope
On Sunday, February 24, around two lakh followers and pilgrims gathered at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City to hear Pope Benedict XVI's final public blessing before he retires at the end of this month. 'Thank you for your affection,' said the Pope, 85, who has surprised the world by his decision to step down as head of the Catholic Church on Feb 28 due to failing health.

"The Lord is calling me to 'climb the mountain', to devote myself to prayer and meditation," said Pope Benedict XVI, who had become the 265th Pope in 2005 following his predecessor John Paul II's death, to the crowd from the window of his apartment.

"But this does not mean abandoning the Church. If God is asking me to do this, it is so because I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love, with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength," he added.

According to Vatican Radio, a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will be convoked soon by the competent vatcan authority to elect the new Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI is the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415 and will move in to the newly renovated Mater Ecclesiae monastery for his retirement and meditation.

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