Pope Benedict XVI has publicly addressed his retirement for the first time, saying it's for "the good of the Church," NBC News reports. Speaking during his weekly general audience, he asked that listeners "continue to pray for me, for the Church, and for the future pope," Reuters reports. "I took this decision in full freedom for the good of the Church after praying for a long time and examining my conscience before God."
Benedict noted that he was "well aware of the gravity of such an act but at the same time aware of not being able to carry out my (papal) ministry with the physical and spiritual force that it requires." But the "certainty that the Church belongs to Christ, who will never stop guiding it and caring for it" keeps him going. Some 8,000 attended the weekly audience, frequently offering loud applause, Reuters notes. The pope said he could "almost physically" feel the warmth he'd received following the announcement. The remarks come ahead of what is scheduled to be Benedict's last public mass today, Ash Wednesday.