Pope Benedict XVI gives final farewell at Vatican. (WGN - Chicago)
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict left the Vatican on Thursday and headed to the papal summer residence where he will become the first pontiff in six centuries to resign instead of ruling for life.
A white Italian air force helicopter lifted off from the Vatican's heliport to fly the 85-year-old pope to Castel Gandolfo, just south of Rome, where at 8 p.m. local time he will resign and leave the papacy vacant.
Before boarding the helicopter, Benedict said goodbye to monsignors, Vatican staff and Swiss guards in the San Damaso courtyard of the Holy See's apostolic palace.
Cardinals will start preparatory meetings on Friday to decide when to start a conclave to elect a new pope.
Benedict, a bookish man who did not seek the papacy and did not enjoy the global glare it brought, proved to be an energetic teacher of Catholic doctrine but a poor manager of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that became mired in scandal during his reign.
He leaves his successor a top secret report on rivalries and scandals within the Curia, prompted by leaks of internal files last year that documented the problems hidden behind the Vatican's thick walls and the Church's traditional secrecy.
After about two months at Castel Gandolfo, Benedict plans to move into a refurbished convent in the Vatican Gardens, where he will live out his life in prayer and study, "hidden to the world", as he put it.
Having both a retired and a serving pope at the same time proved such a novelty that the Vatican took nearly two weeks to decide his title and form of clerical dress.
He will be known as the "pope emeritus," wear a simple white cassock rather than his white papal clothes and retire his famous red "shoes of the fisherman," a symbol of the blood of the early Christian martyrs, for more pedestrian brown ones.
(Reporting By Tom Heneghan; editing by Philip Pullella and Giles Elgood)
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