Pope Benedict XVI made his final public act as pope on Thursday afternoon, when he blessed an applauding a crowd from the balcony of his temporary retreat in Castel Gandolfo, a hilltop town south of Rome where popes have summered for centuries.
"I am no longer the pope, but I'm still in the church. I'm just a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his pilgrimage on this Earth," Benedict said.
"Thank you all. Good night," he said, turning around and entering the retreat.
PHOTOS: Pope Benedict's Final Farewell
Benedict's retirement becomes official today at 8 p.m. local time, when seals are placed on the doors of the papal apartments and bells start to ring throughout Rome.
The seals and the destruction of the chunky "Fisherman's Ring" worn by Benedict XVI until the very last moment, will be the concluding act of 7 years, 10 months and 9 days of papacy that, in Benedict's words was filled with "light and joy" but also had difficult moments when "the Lord seemed to be sleeping."
Benedict led the Church through hard times, marked by sexual abuse and financial scandals. At the same time, he tried to reinforce conservative positions - advocating against women's ordination, religious pluralism, homosexuality and gay marriages.