Vatican City: Pope Benedict XVI will have the official title of "pope emeritus" and continue wearing the papal white cassock after he resigns on Thursday -- the first leader of the Catholic Church to do so since the Middle Ages, the Vatican said.

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Benedict can still be addressed as "Your Holiness Benedict XVI" and will have the additional title of "Roman pontiff emeritus", spokesman Federico Lombardi told the Vatican press corps on Wednesday. Benedict can also still wear a white cassock normally reserved only for pontiffs -- but without the doubled shoulder cape -- and has chosen to swap his trademark red shoes for a brown pair given to him by artisans in Mexico during a trip last year, Lombardi said.

The Vatican spokesman also said that a series of meetings of cardinals to settle on a date for the start of a conclave to elect Benedict's successor could start on Monday. Lombardi said the pope had already sorted through official documents from his papacy that will remain in the Vatican and personal notes that he will take with him into retirement. Benedict holds a final general audience in St Peter's Square on wednesday, the eve of his resignation from a troubled eight-year papacy dominated by paedophile priest scandals and Vatican intrigue.

At least 50,000 pilgrims are expected to attend, enough to fill the famous square to overflowing. On Thursday at around 5:00 pm (1600 GMT), the pope will be flown by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, the traditional summer residence of popes. Lombardi said no fanfare will mark the official end of his papacy at 8:00 pm, other than the handover of responsibility for his security from the Swiss Guard to Vatican police.

"The symbolic moment will come when the gates (of Castel Gondolfo) close at 8:00 pm and the Swiss Guard leave in a symbolic departure," Lombardi said. The 85-year-old German pontiff shocked the world when he announced on February 11 that he would step down at the end of the month, citing his age and failing strength.

Asked whether Benedict will be the first former pontiff to be called "pope emeritus", Lombardi laughed and said: "We don't know what Celestine V was called when he stepped down. We'll have to ask the historians." The 13th-century monk was the only other pope in the 2,000-year-old Church's long line of rulers to step down voluntarily -- saying he could not tolerate the intrigues of the Church hierarchy.

POPE'S EXIT
  • Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will resign on February 28
  • He will be the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years
  • The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415
  • New Pope will be elected by mid-March during a conclave in Vatican
  • Five Cardinals from India will participate in the conclave at the Vatican in the 'Holy Week' beginning from March 24 and vote to elect the next Pope
  • Only 117 of the total of 206 Cardinals of the Universal Catholic Church will be eligible to vote in the conclave to elect the 266th successor of St. Peter as they are below the age of 80 years
  • The maximum strength of the College of Cardinals, with the right to vote, was fixed as 120
  • The head of the Universal Catholic Church is also known as Successor of St. Peter,The Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, the Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, the Sovereign of the State of Vatican City and the Servant of Servants of God

JPN/Agencies

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