VATICAN CITY — Saying he would soon be “hidden to the world,” Pope Benedict XVI took his leave of parish priests and clergy members of the Diocese of Rome on Thursday as he offered personal, and incisive, recollections of the Second Vatican Council, the gathering of bishops 50 years ago that set the Roman Catholic Church’s course for the future.
Benedict, who announced his resignation on Monday in a move that stunned the Roman Catholic world, also indicated that he would not hold a public role once his resignation became official on Feb. 28. Benedict is the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years.
“Though I am now retiring to a life of prayer, I will always be close to all of you, and I am sure all of you will be close to me, even though I remain hidden to the world,” Benedict, 85, and increasingly frail, told the assembly of hundreds of priests, who had greeted him with a long standing ovation and some tears.
Priests in attendance said they felt they had witnessed a powerful moment in church history, one that also humanized a pope who had often seemed remote. “It moved me to see the pope smile,” said Don Mario Filippa, a priest in Rome. “He has found peace within himself.”