CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy — Benedict XVI become the first pope in 600 years to resign Thursday, ending an eight-year pontificate shaped by struggles to move the church past sex abuse scandals and to reawaken Christianity in an indifferent world.
As bells tolled, the Swiss Guards standing at attention in Castel Gandolfo shut the doors of the palazzo shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday (2 p.m. EST), symbolically closing out a papacy whose legacy will be most marked by the way it ended — a resignation instead of a death.
In a changing of the guard, the Swiss Guards in their yellow-and-blue striped uniforms handed over the responsibility of protecting Benedict to Vatican police as some of the faithful outside shouted "Viva il papa!" — Long live the pope!
The pope's journey into retirement began with an emotional send-off from the Vatican, with Swiss Guards in full regalia and prelates kneeling to kiss Benedict's papal ring one last time. Benedict's closest aide wept by his side as they took their final walk down the marbled halls of the Apostolic Palace.
As bells tolled in St. Peter's and in church towers across Rome, the 85-year-old Benedict flew by helicopter to the papal vacation retreat in Castel Gandolfo in the hills south of Rome where he will spend the first two months of his retirement.