The big speeches are done. It's almost time to go.
In just a few minutes, Pope Benedict XVI meets with his cardinals this morning on the day he heads into retirement. No major speech is expected during his morning farewell with his closest advisers, just a simple greeting to each one inside the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace.
Shortly before 5 p.m. local time, Benedict will leave the palace for the last time as pope, head to the helipad on the top of the hill in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal retreat south of Rome. And there, at 8 p.m. — the exact moment Benedict's resignation goes into effect — the doors of the palazzo will close and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the pope now finished.
QUICKQUOTE: JOHN KERRY
"The United States sends its best wishes to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as he leaves the Vatican after years of service and dedication to God, the Catholic Church, and world peace. As the papal conclave assembles, I look forward to continuing our important relationship with the Vatican and working with the new pope to foster dialogue and promote human rights and human dignity throughout the world."
New U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Rome for a conference on Syria as part of his first diplomatic tour abroad.
A GLIMPSE INSIDE
Victor L. Simpson, Rome bureau chief for The Associated Press, reflects on his decades of covering the papacy:
One thing that sets the Vatican apart from other places: You can't just stroll around and poke your head in everywhere.
As many as 18 million people pass through Vatican territory each year, but their visits are effectively limited to St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican museums. Aside from the Vatican's 492 residents and its 4,700 employees, everyone else needs a pass, even to drop by the Vatican pharmacy for medicine not sold in Italy (bring a doctor's prescription please) or to buy back copies of the Vatican paper at the offices of L'Osservatore Romano.
After all these years, I still feel a tingle of excitement to be let in through the Bronze Door, escorted past Swiss Guards in full regalia, and taken up to the pope's apartment on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace for a papal audience with a dignitary. These meetings have given a rare peek inside Vatican diplomacy.
Victor L. Simpson
The town where Benedict is spending his last hours as pope and his first hours as the first pontiff in 600 years to retire is one of several picturesque "castle towns" known as the "Castelli," less than an hour's drive from Rome. Nestled in the Alban Hills, southeast of Rome, it is an area that is volcanic in origin. One of the volcano's old craters became Lake Albano, whose shores include Castel Gandolfo.
The volcano's no longer active, but the Castelli area gets its share of earthquakes, generally fairly mild and doing no damage. The rich volcanic soil helps produce inexpensive white wines that are a favorite in local trattorie as well as in restaurants in Rome.
The town is older than Christianity. The papal residence grounds include ruins from an imperial Roman villa, which itself had been on the site of ancient temples built several centuries before the ancient Romans came to check out the cool breezes and views.
The sprawling papal grounds, which as Vatican property enjoy extraterritoriality, include a working farm. Coffee bars in town have been known to serve milk from the farm's cows. (Yes, it's already been said: "Holy Cow.")
Frances D'Emilio — Twitter http://twittter.com/fdemilio
GOODBYE, RED SHOES
The red shoes are being retired.
The Pope is giving up the trademark that briefly made him a fashion star, trading in his snappy ruby-red loafers for a pair of hand-crafted brown ones made for him by artisans in Mexico. He will wear those in retirement, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says.
The flash of red sparked (unfounded) rumors he was wearing Prada and helped make him Esquire magazine's accessorizer of the year in 2007. The actual designer? An Italian craftsman who had previously created a pair for Pope John Paul II, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
A former Vatican official assured The Associated Press back in 2005 that Benedict was no clothes horse, advising that the pontiff "wouldn't know Gucci from Smoochi."
Matt Surman — Twitter http://twitter.com/apsurman
LAST DAY AS POPE
Pope Benedict XVI is making history today, becoming the first pontiff to retire in nearly 600 years.
Only a handful of popes have ever done so.
The last was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants. The most famous resignation was Pope Celestine V in 1294; Dante placed him in hell for it.
Benedict is saying farewell this morning to his closest advisers in Clementine Hall at the Apostolic Palace. Then shortly before 5 p.m., he will leave the palace for the last time as pope and fly by helicopter to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
Exactly at 8 p.m. — when his resignation takes effect — the doors at Castel Gandolfo will close and the papacy that began on April 19, 2005, will come to an end.