Pope Benedict XVI gives final address

Pope Benedict XVI assured a huge, cheering crowd at the Vatican Wednesday that he was not abandoning the Catholic Church, saying he would remain at its service through prayer, NBC News reports.

“I ask each of you to pray for me,” he told tens of thousands who gathered in the sunshine to watch his final general audience before Thursday’s abdication.

Referring to the many turbulent moments of his papacy, he acknowledge its moments of joy but also difficulty when “It seemed like the Lord was sleeping.”

“There were moments when the waters were choppy and there were headwinds,” he said.

He said he was not “coming down from the cross” despite renouncing his office, saying his decision was taken “in full awareness of its gravity and rarity but also with profound serenity of spirit.”

Earlier, pilgrims and onlookers from around the world cheered as Benedict arrived and made a circuit of the square on his “popemobile.”

Benedict waved as he swept through the crowd, pausing briefly several times to bless babies, before heading to a platform in front of St. Peter’s Basilica to make his address.

Among the audience was New Yorker Elise O’Donnell-Tixon, who is now living in Rome. “I’m sad because this will likely be the last time I see him,” she said. “I was lucky, because my husband and I were blessed by the pope at an audience last Christmas. We got front-row seats.”

At the end of the speech, the crowd stood to applaud.

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