VATICAN CITY -- 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.
Pope Benedict XVI has greeted his cardinals for the last time as pontiff, beginning a quiet final day as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics before flying off into retirement.
Pope Benedict promised "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in his final greetings to cardinals before retiring.
He urged his cardinals Thursday to work in unity so that the College of Cardinals is "like an orchestra" where "agreement and harmony" can be reached -- a clear message to the conclave that will pick the next pope.
He said he would pray for the cardinals in coming days and weeks as they choose his successor.
Around 5 p.m., Benedict will leave the palace for the last time as pontiff, head to the helicopter pad on the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The doors of the palazzo will shut and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty.