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Pope delivers last mass

Pope Benedict XVI addresses the Roman Catholic faithful.

Pope Benedict XVI addresses the Roman Catholic faithful.

VATICAN CITY – Huge crowds in the Vatican cheered Pope Benedict XVI today as he made his first public appearance since announcing his resignation at the end of the month.

He thanked the Roman Catholic faithful in several languages and said it was not appropriate for him to continue as pope.

“I’ve decided to resign the ministry given to me by the Lord. I’ve done this in full freedom, for the benefit of the church,” he told those gathered in a Vatican City audience hall for his regular weekly appearance.

Benedict said he is fully aware of the gravity of his decision but he could not carry on as pope “if I don’t have the strength that it requires.”

He appeared tired but not visibly unwell as he sat and read his remarks off several sheets of paper.

Benedict also celebrated an Ash Wednesday mass marking the beginning of Lent at St. Peter’s Basilica in the afternoon.

The service was moved from St. Sabina Church, where it is traditionally held, to the Basilica to accommodate the large crowd of worshipers, Vatican officials said.

The news Monday that Benedict was stepping down at the end of February “because of advanced age” shocked the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

He is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years. (CNN)

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