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Lombardi: Focus on final days of Benedict XVI’s pontificate




(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign is not due to ill health but the inevitable frailty that comes with aging, Fr. Federico Lombardi reiterated Tuesday to a packed Vatican Press Office. It was a decision that the Holy Father matured over time, particularly following his trip last year to Mexico and Cuba, when he realised the physical toll of such trans-Atlantic journeys, which are part and parcel of the Pope’s ministry. What’s important now, he said, is that we enjoy the last great events of this pontificate. Emer McCarthy reports: RealAudioMP3

In the second such briefing since the shock announcement Monday, the Director of the Holy See Press office convoked journalists to clarify a series of questions from the International press corps that has laid siege to the Vatican in the last 24 hours.

Fr. Lombardi began by confirming the Pope’s calendar of appointments until 8pm, February 28th, the time and date indicated by the Pope for his resignation from ministry. The Pope chose this time, Lombardi told journalists, simply because it is when he usually ends his working day.

The Press Office Director confirmed Italian newspaper reports that Pope Benedict has a pacemaker, but pointed out that he has had it for 10 years, even before being elected Pope. Fr Lombardi also confirmed that Benedict XVI had a new battery installed three months ago in a routine procedure, but that his general health was normal for a man nearing 86 years of age.

For many faithful news that Benedict XVI’s highly anticipated encyclical on faith will not be published before he steps down was somewhat disappointing, but Fr. Lombardi said, in all probability it “will be published under another form”.

So what happens next?

Turning to what happens next the spokesman reiterated that the Conclave must begin between 15 to 20 days from the commencement of the ‘Sede vacante’ or Vacant See, (March 1st) and that it is not the Pope who convokes the Cardinals to Rome. He also reaffirmed that Benedict XVI will have “no role whatsoever” in the conclave or choice of his successor.

The Vatican’s Office for Protocol, Lombardi revealed, is already studying the constitution and norms governing the Papacy to clarify the state and situation of Benedict XVI once he resigns. What title he will be given, his role within the Church and even the fate of the fisherman’s ring and papal seal. “It’s unchartered territory for us all”, he said.

In the meantime, he encouraged journalists not to miss the opportunity of the last great encounters of this pontificate. These include: the two general audiences, February 13 and 27; Ash Wednesday celebrations to be held this year in St Peter’s Basilica rather than St Sabina on the Aventine Hill, his meeting with the priests of Rome on Thursday February 14th ; the Sunday Angelus; his meeting with bishops from Italy on their Ad Limina pilgrimage and two private audiences with visiting Heads of State, from Romania and Guatemala.

Fr. Lombardi drew particular attention to the decision to move Ash Wednesday celebrations to St Peters. It was motivated by a question of space, to accommodate those wishing to attend what will be the last great liturgical celebration of Pope Benedict’s pontificate.

He also revealed in his meeting with Rome’s priests this Thursday Pope Benedict XVI will focus on his personal memories and experiences of Vatican II in what promises to be a touching and very personal encounter.