SALT LAKE CITY — As Pope Benedict XVI made his final appearance on Wednesday, faithful Catholics everywhere prepared for a new leader.
Pope Benedict XVI rode through a crowd of 150,000 people gathered at St. Peter's Square wishing him farewell. The crowd cheered, carried signs of support and even passed a baby for him to kiss.
"To love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions," Pope Benedict XVI said to the crowd.
The Most Reverend Bishop John C. Wester from the Salt Lake Diocese said that most Catholics will remember the pope's resignation with mixed feelings. He said many members of his congregation are curious who the new pope will be, but are sad to see Pope Benedict XVI resign.
"It's a bittersweet day in the sense that we have to say goodbye to our Holy Father," Bishop Wester said. "But, we're happy for him that a lot of the stress will be off his shoulders."
Following the Thursday night resignation, Pope Benedict XVI will be known as Pope Emeritus. He will continue to wear the papal white robes, but not his trademark red shoes. Other changes will follow the resignation as well.
"His ring will be destroyed and his seal will be destroyed because he is no longer the pope," Bishop Wester said. "So, those are two very important symbols of the papacy and of his ministry."
The pope has explained his resignation as necessary because he "no longer has strength of mind and body" to carry on. However, rumors of leaked papal documents exposing corruption at the Vatican and continuing priest abuse in the church suggest that the pope is stepping down for other reasons.
Bishop Wester defended the pope's reason for resigning and said he takes Pope Benedict XVI at his word.
I saw him last April 2012 and he appeared to me at that time to be tired. I can only imagine the pressures of his job.
–The Most Reverend Bishop, John Wester
"As I think about it, I keep coming to the same conclusion, and namely I think what he says is exactly what it is," Bishop Wester said. "I saw him last April 2012 and he appeared to me at that time to be tired. I can only imagine the pressures of his job."
Pope Benedict's photograph is prominently displayed in the Cathedral of the Madeleine in downtown Salt Lake City. Bishop Wester has asked the members of his diocese to give thanks and to pray for the pontiff and to have faith during the time of transition.
"It's an historical way for the change to take place," Bishop Wester said. "Nonetheless, there's a certain sense that everything is provided for, that the church leadership is in place."
The 115 cardinals will meet Monday to decide when to set the date for the beginning of the conclave.