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Benedict Becomes 1st Pope in 600 Years to Resign

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Benedict XVI has become the first pope in 600 years to resign, ending an eight-year pontificate shaped by struggles to move the church past sex abuse scandals and to reawaken Christianity in an indifferent world.

The Swiss Guards standing at attention in Castel Gandolfo shut the gates of the palazzo shortly after 11am local time, symbolically closing the doors on a papacy whose legacy will be most marked by the way it ended -- a resignation instead of a death.

In a final farewell to his cardinals as pope, Benedict tried to dispel concerns about the unprecedented future awaiting the Catholic Church, with one reigning and one retired pope living side-by-side. He pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.

Plans for choosing a successor will begin Monday when cardinals are expected to begin meeting to set the date for the conclave.

The text of Pope Benedict XVI's comments, delivered to a roaring crowd in Castel Gandolfo:

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Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes, which do me such good. Thank you for your friendship, and your affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 o'clock this evening and then no more.

I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth. But I would still ... thank you ... I would still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength, like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your sympathy.

Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!"

(The Associated Press.)

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