In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessing at the end of a meeting of Vatican cardinals, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign Feb. 28 - the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)
VATICAN CITY, (WVLT/CBS)--Pope Benedict XVI has left the Vatican the last time as Pope. He began his final as pontiff, meeting with his cardinals before flying off into retirement.
Benedict briefly addressed 144 cardinals gathered in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, thanking them again for their support and saying that in the turnout for his final general audience the previous day, "we saw the spirit of Christ... The Church will rise again and be full of souls, the Church will grow."
During his remarks, he pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to the man who becomes his successor.
He then gave a blessing, and personally greeted each of the cardinals in attendance, shaking their hands and exchanging a few words as they approached him in turn.
Shortly before 5 p.m. (11 a.m. Eastern), Benedict will leave the palace for the last time as pope, be driven the short distance to the helipad on the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly by helicopter to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. The Vatican said he would spend the hours before his departure having lunch and resting.
At 2:00pm, the exact moment Benedict's resignation goes into effect, the doors of the palazzo will close and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the pope now finished.