Pope Thanks Public For 'Love And Prayers'

Pope Benedict XVI has thanked the public for their "love and prayers", as he makes his first public appearance since announcing his resignation. The Pope was cheered by crowds as he entered and began speaking, at a weekly audience in a hall at the Vatican. He said he resigned because he was aware of his own diminishing spiritual and physical strength. Later he will hold what is expected to be his last public Mass, for Ash Wednesday, in St Peter's Basilica. The 85-year-old will continue with his diary as usual until the day he officially retires at the end of February, Vatican officials say. By the end of Lent, in six weeks' time, there is expected to be a new Pope. The Pope is holding his weekly general audience at its traditional venue, the audience hall in the Vatican. Thousands of people gathered in the hall to greet him, cheering as he arrived, and as he began and finished speaking. Pope Benedict thanked them for their warm greeting and their sympathy. "Thank you for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me... Keep praying for me, for the Church and for the future pope," he said. He said he was aware of the gravity of his decision to resign but also of his declining strength, adding that he was certain the Church would sustain him with prayer.