Pope Benedict pledges obedience to his successor

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI promised “unconditional” obedience to his successor during a farewell meeting with cardinals on Thursday (Feb. 28).

“Among you, in the College of Cardinals, there is the future pope, to whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience,” he said in the last official act of his pontificate before his resignation becomes effective at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

According to the Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, 144 cardinals are already in Rome and were present to bid their farewell to Benedict.

There will be 115 cardinals who are under age 80 and thus eligible to participate in the conclave to elect the next pope.

In his brief, unannounced address, the pope issued a renewed appeal for the church’s unity.

The College of Cardinals, he said, is “like an orchestra, where diversity, an expression of the universal church, always contributes to a superior harmony of concord.”

“Let us remain united, dear brothers ... in prayer, especially in daily Eucharist, and thus serve the church and all humanity,” he added.

Benedict also promised to pray for the cardinals who will gather in the coming weeks in a closed-door conclave to elect his successor.

Lombardi stressed that while Benedict was in no way obliged to pledge obedience to his successor, it was a “beautiful gesture” to reaffirm that “he has no intention of interfering” with the action of the future pope.

After Benedict's speech, cardinals lined up for a brief personal greeting with the pope, followed by the heads of Vatican departments and other senior Vatican officials.