Final papal audience of Benedict XVI

More than 50,000 people are expected to attend the weekly papal audience at 10.30 on the morning of Wednesday 27 February, in what is the last major public event of Pope Benedict XVI before he retires on Thursday 28 February.

Ahead of the audience security is very tight, in an operation that could involve up to 800 officers, according to Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero. Helicopters circle over the S. Pietro area while plainclothes police (some dressed in clerical garb) mingle with pilgrims in Piazza S. Pietro; others are stationed on surrounding rooftops.

The Pope will salute the crowd one last time from his popemobile but there will be no bacciamani, the personal greetings usually granted to a select few immediately after each audience. However, later in the Sala Clementina the Pope will meet various heads of state and dignitaries including the Slovakian president; the Prince of Andorra; the Captain Regent of S. Marino; and the president of Benedict's native Bavaria region in Germany.

To deal with the large crowds expected, between 07.00 and 14.00 there is increased public transport to the S. Pietro area from Termini station, with the Metro A line running at peak capacity to Ottaviano and extra buses to the Vatican bus stop on Lungotevere in Sassia.

Meanwhile on 28 February, the last day of his pontificate, the Pope will be flown by helicopter to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo where he is expected to land at 17.15. There he will be received by ecclesiastical and local civil authorities before appearing at the balcony of the Apostolic Palace to greet well-wishers.

The Sede Vacante begins at 20.00 and the Swiss Guards assigned to the Pope at Castel Gandolfo will be replaced by the Vatican Gendarmerie. At this point Benedict XVI becomes "Pope emeritus" and his papal “Fisherman’s ring” will be destroyed along with the lead seal of the pontificate. He will continue to wear white in his retirement but will cease to wear the famous red shoes.