VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI has greeted his cardinals for the last time as pontiff, beginning a quiet final day as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics before flying off into retirement.
No major speech was planned during Thursday's farewell to his closest advisers. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the cardinals, thanked Benedict for his service.
Around 5 p.m., Benedict will leave the palace for the last time as pontiff, head to the helicopter pad on the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
There, at 8 p.m. sharp, Benedict becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The doors of the palazzo will shut and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty.