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Pope Benedict XVI Delivers Final Sunday Blessing At Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI has given his final blessing before he steps down from the papacy on Thursday.

Here's more from The Associated Press:

"Benedict told the crowd that God is calling him to dedicate himself 'even more to prayer and meditation,' which he will do in a secluded monastery being renovated for him on the grounds behind Vatican City's ancient walls.

"'But this doesn't mean abandoning the church,' he said, as many in the crowd looked sad at his departure from regular view. 'On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it (the church) with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength.'"

Benedict, the first pope to step down in 600 years, has cited his advanced age and diminishing strength as reasons for his resignation.

Some 100,000 people packed St. Peter's Square to hear the pope's last blessing. They interrupted him several times with applause and cheers, the AP reported.

Benedict has one more scheduled public event: a general audience in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday.

No date has been set for the start of a conclave of cardinals that will decide the next pope, but as Eyder noted last week, Benedict is considering issuing a decree that would speed up the process of appointing his replacement.

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