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Benedict XVI's renunciation of the papacy is an event without precedents that, consequently, went immediately around the world. As the Pontiff himself announced with simple solemnity before a group of cardinals, from February 28 the episcopal See of Rome will be vacant, and immediately after a conclave will be convoked to elect a Successor of the Apostle Peter. The Pope specified this in the brief text he composed directly in Latin and read in the consistory.
The Pontiff's decision was made many months before, after the trip to Mexico and Cuba, within a reserve that no one was able to enter, and having "repeatedly examined" his conscience "before God" (conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata), because of his advanced age. Benedict XVI explained, with the clarity proper to him, that his strength "is no longer adequate to exercise in an appropriate way" the enormous task required of the one elected "to govern Saint Peter's bark and proclaim the Gospel."
For this reason, and only for this reason, the Roman Pontiff, "well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full liberty" (bene conscious ponderis huius actus plena libertate) renounces the ministry of Bishop of Rome entrusted to him on April 19, 2005. And the words Benedict XVI chose indicate transparently his respect for the conditions established by Canon Law for resignations from an office that has no paragon in the world given its real weight and spiritual importance.
It is well known that Cardinal Ratzinger in no way sought his election to the pontificate, one of the speediest in history, and that he accepted it with the simplicity of one who truly entrusts his life to God. Because of this Benedict XVI has never felt alone, in a genuine and daily relationship with the One who lovingly governs the life of every human being and in the reality of the communion of saints, supported by the love and work (amore et labore) of his collaborators, and sustained by prayer and the sympathy of very many persons, believers and non-believers.
Read in this light also is his renunciation of the pontificate, which was free and above all confident in God's providence. Benedict XVI is well aware that, because of "its essential spiritual nature," the papal service is carried out also by "prayer and suffering," but he stresses that in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith [...] both strength of mind and body are necessary" for a Pope, a strength that in him, if course, is waning.
In his words addressed to the cardinals, who first were stunned and then moved, and with his decision which does not have comparable historical precedents, Benedict XVI demonstrates a lucidity and a humility which is first of all, as he once explained, adherence to reality, to earth (humus). Thus, not feeling able any longer to "administer well" the ministry entrusted to him, he announced his resignation. With a humanly and spiritually exemplary decision, at the height of the maturity of a pontificate that, since the beginning and for almost eight years, day by day, has not failed to astonish and which will certainly leave a profound mark in history. A history which the Pope reads with trust in the sign of God's plan for the future.
[Translation by ZENIT]