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VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI has recalled moments of "joy and light" during his papacy but also times of great difficulty in an emotional, final general audience in St. Peter's Square before retiring.
Benedict thanked his cardinals, colleagues and ordinary faithful for their support and for respecting his decision to become the first pope in 600 years to resign. He said that "to love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself."
Tens of thousands of people toting banners saying "Grazie!" -- "thank you" -- jammed the piazza to bid Benedict farewell during his last audience -- the appointment he has kept each week to teach the world about the Catholic faith.
The 85-year-old Pontiff goes into retirement at 8 p.m. Rome time Thursday, which is 2 p.m. Eastern.
Benedict will meet with his cardinals morning and then be taken to the papal retreat. The pope-emeritus, as Benedict will be called, will remain at Castel Gandolfo as cardinals meet to choose his successor.
He'll later return to live in monastery in Vatican City to live in a quiet life of prayer.