Resigning Pope Asks Crowds To Pray For Him

Resigning Pope Asks Crowds To Pray For Him

Pope Benedict XVI has asked the faithful to pray for him and for his successor as he spoke to crowds in his penultimate Sunday address before he resigns.

More than 50,000 supporters were estimated to have been in the Vatican's St Peter's Square to watch the Angelus, where he thanked them in several languages.

Benedict announced last Monday that he would be the first head of the Roman Catholic Church to resign in 600 years, due to his "deteriorating" health.

He will step down at the end of this month after almost eight years in the post, having been elected in April 2005.

On Sunday, onlookers chanted "long live the Pope", waved banners and applauded as the 85-year-old Pontiff spoke from his window.

Speaking in Spanish, he told the crowd: "I beg you to continue praying for me and for the next Pope."

It was not clear why the Pope chose Spanish to make the only specific reference to his forthcoming resignation on February 28.

In part of his address about Lent, the Pontiff spoke in Italian about the difficulty of making important decisions.

"In decisive moments of life, or, on closer inspection, at every moment in life, we are at a crossroads: do we want to follow the 'I' or God? The individual interest or the real good, that which is really good?" he asked.

The Pope also spoke in English, French, German, and Polish and after his address he retired into the Vatican's Apostolic Palace for a scheduled, week-long spiritual retreat.

He will not make any more public appearances until next Sunday.

A number of cardinals have said they would be open to the possibility of a Pope from the developing world, be it Latin America, Africa or Asia, rather than another from Europe.

Some 117 cardinals under the age of 80 will be eligible to enter the secretive conclave to elect Benedict's successor.

Church rules say it has to start between 15 and 20 days after the Papacy becomes vacant.

The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new Pope elected and then formally installed before Palm Sunday on March 24 so he can preside at Holy Week services leading to Easter.