Unusually large crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square for Pope Benedict XVI's first Sunday window blessing ahead of his retirement on February 28. Earlier, the Benedict had stunned the world by announcing his decision to quit the papacy and stewardship of the Roman Catholic church.
On Sundays, a recital of the Angelus is led by the Holy Father at noon when he appears to thousands of visitors to St. Peter's Square from the balcony of the Papal Apartments. This time, a huge banner inscribing, "We love you" was put up at St. Peter's Square. The Benedict raised his arms outstretched to the crowd in his Angelus blessing.
To the followers, this was one of their second-to-last chance to see the pontiff before he relinquishes his position and the beginning of the traditional Lenten period of reflection and prayer starts. Many wanted to see and wish him well for this rare and the first papal abdication in 600 years.
The retired Pope will hardly be seen when he moves into a monastery behind Vatican City's walls and lead a cloistered life.
The Vatican is likely to start the conclave and begin the process of choosing the new Pope around mid-March. Meanwhile, the cardinals have started arriving in Rome to decide who are the leading candidates to be the next Pope.