"I was somewhat surprised that Benedict would still be called 'His Holiness' and would wear white, but it's akin to the former U.S. presidents being addressed as 'Mr. President,'" said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit writer and editor. "It's a mark of respect for the former office he once held."
"Overall, I don't think that after the conclave there will be any doubt about who the pope is, or who is in charge," he said.
While Benedict will no longer wear his trademark red shoes, he has taken a liking to a pair of hand-crafted brown loafers made for him by artisans in Leon, Mexico, and given to him during his 2012 visit. He will wear those in retirement, Lombardi said.
Lombardi also elaborated on the College of Cardinals meetings that will take place after the papacy becomes vacant — crucial gatherings in which cardinals will discuss the problems facing the church and set a date for the start of the conclave to elect Benedict's successor.
The first meeting isn't expected until Monday, Lombardi said, since the official convocation to cardinals to come to Rome will only go out on Friday — the first day of what's known as the "sede vacante," or the vacancy between papacies.
In all, 115 cardinals under the age of 80 are expected in Rome for the conclave to vote on who should become the next pope. Two other eligible cardinals have already said they are not coming, one from Britain and another from Indonesia. Cardinals who are 80 and older can join the College meetings but won't participate in the conclave or vote.
Benedict has already given the cardinals the go-ahead to move up the start date of the conclave — tossing out the traditional 15-day waiting period. But the cardinals won't be able to set a date until their official meetings begin Monday.
Lombardi also described Benedict's final 48 hours as pope: On Tuesday, he was packing, arranging for documents to be sent to the various Vatican archives and separating out the personal papers he will take with him into retirement.
On Wednesday, Benedict holds his final public general audience in St. Peter's Square — an event that has already brought in 50,000 ticket requests. He won't greet visiting prelates or VIPs as he normally does, but will meet some visiting leaders — from Slovakia, San Marino, Andorra and his native Bavaria — privately afterward.
On Thursday, the pope meets with his cardinals in the morning and then flies by helicopter at 5 p.m. to Castel Gandolfo, the papal residence south of Rome. Benedict will greet parishioners there from the palazzo's balcony — his final public act as pope.
Then, at 8 p.m., the exact time at which his retirement becomes official, the Swiss Guards standing outside the doors of the palazzo at Castel Gandolfo will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church finished.
Benedict's personal security will be assured by Vatican police, Lombardi said.
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