Pope Benedict XVI marks his last day as pontiff

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In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI, center, delivers his message on the occasion of his farewell meeting to cardinals, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict XVI promised his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his successor in his final words to his cardinals Thursday, a poignant farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. At left is his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gaenswein. (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano, ho) 

VATICAN CITY — 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.

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