VATICAN CITY (February 28, 2013)--Benedict XVI left the Vatican Thursday for the last time as pope, flying by helicopter to the Vatican's vacation retreat hours before becoming the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
A final tweet from the first pope to have his own Twitter account, sent shortly before his departure read, "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."
As his closest aide wept by his side, Benedict bade farewell to Vatican officials gathered in the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, a corps of Swiss Guards standing by at attention.
Benedict traveled by car to the helipad on the top of the hill of the Vatican gardens and boarded a helicopter along with his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, for the 15-minute trip to Castel Gandolfo. Bells tolled as the helicopter took off.
In an unexpected speech to cardinals today, the pope promised "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.
Benedict urged them to work in unity so that the College of Cardinals is "like an orchestra" where "agreement and harmony" can be reached.