The pope began a quiet final day as pontiff, meeting with the cardinals who will choose his successor. He bid farewell to the cardinals individually inside the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. He told them they must work together like an orchestra to choose the next leader of the church.
Around 5 p.m. local time, the pope left Vatican City via helicopter and headed to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. He greeted parishioners from the palazzo's balcony in his final act as pope. Arms raised, he told a packed piazza that as of his retirement, "I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth."
At 8 p.m., the exact moment his resignation went into effect, the doors of the palazzo closed, and the Swiss Guards handed over responsibility of protecting the Benedict to Vatican police
It was a historic day as the 85-year-old retired for health reasons. Church followers say he will be remembered for his deep understanding of church doctrine.
There is some concern that having a retired pope so close by will undermine the new leader of the church. But Benedict is promising he will remain outside of the public eye and will give his full obedience to whoever is elected. After Thursday night, he will be referred to as his holiness Pope Emeritus.
The pope will also be retiring his Twitter account. In his last tweet, Benedict expressed his gratitude, saying, "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."
Cardinal Roger Mahony tweeted, "When I greeted the Pope I asked for his prayers for all of the people in the greater Los Angeles area. He grasped my hand and said 'Yes'!!
There is criticism over Mahony's presence in Rome. Rita Milla is the first woman to file a lawsuit against the L.A. Archdiocese. She was 16 years old when she was sexually abused by Father Santiago Tamayo and several other priests. The archdiocese settled the 1984 lawsuit, but she says documents show the church tried to cover it up and hid the priests. She says Mahony knew about it and should not take part in the conclave to elect a new pope.
"He has once again shown his disdain for the victims of abuse by going to Rome to vote for the new Pope," she said. "Having such a man as Mahony, who has no regard for what is truly holy, take part in this election inspires no confidence in me that any new change shall occur within the church."
The impact of the pope's decision to step down is being felt across the globe among the more than one billion Catholics. Students at St. Joseph High School in Lakewood watched on TV as the pope left Vatican City offered up a prayer.
"We offer thanks for the time, energy and commitment Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI gave to the world. We celebrate all that he gave in service of his former position," a student said in prayer.
The church has hit some stormy waters. The pope's tenure has been beset by the clerical sex abuse scandal, discord over everything from priestly celibacy to women's ordination, and most recently the betrayal by his own butler who stole his private papers and leaked them to a journalist.
Some local parishioners say the allegations of abuse by Catholic priests around the world have been disheartening. They hope that a new pope will breathe renewed energy in to the Roman Catholic Church.
"We need new blood, new energy and new insight and then you can deal with problems in a better fashion," said parishioner Charlie Brown.
Others hope for someone who can better promote the universality of the church.
"I would like to see a pope other than an Italian. I would love to see a pope from either South or Latin America, or even Africa," said Jerry Riggs of Dana Point.
"He needs to come up with something to bring back the fold, so to speak, or make younger people more interested to be participate and be active in the church," said Priscilla Meulen of Irvine.
On Monday, the cardinals will decide the date of the next conclave to elect a new pope. Normally the cardinals are not allowed to select a new pope until 15 to 20 days after the office becomes vacant, usually when the previous pope dies. But Pope Benedict has made it possible for cardinals to elect his successor faster.