14 Feb 2013

Pope cheered by crowds at public appearance

6:04 am on 14 February 2013

Pope Benedict XVI has been applauded by thousands of worshippers at the Vatican in his first public appearance since he announced his resignation.

The Pope thanked the public for their "love and prayers" at a weekly audience in a hall at the Vatican.

Thousands of people gathered in the hall to greet him, giving him a standing ovation as he arrived, and cheering as he began and finished speaking, the BBC reports.

Looking tired and drawn, he said he resigned for the good of the Church, aware of his own declining spiritual and physical strength.

The 85-year-old pontiff said in a speech in Latin on Monday that he will step down at the end of this month because he no longer has the mental and physical strength to cope with the demands of his ministry.

The Vatican said he would continue with his diary as usual until 28 February, the day he officially retires.

On that day, he will fly to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo, where he will stay while Church leaders go through the complicated ritual of choosing a successor.

By the end of Lent, in six weeks' time, there is expected to be a new Pope.

The BBC says the behind-the-scenes battle for the succession has already begun.

The secret process of selecting a new Pope is known as a conclave, governed by rules which have evolved over centuries.