Thousands of the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square Wednesday morning for Pope Benedict XVI's final public appearance before he retires.
Some 50,000 tickets were requested for the pope's audience, though Italian media estimates there could be twice that number attending his weekly appointment to teach about the Catholic faith.
The pope spoke about his decision to retire, and asked for prayers for his successor.
"The decision I have made after much prayer is the fruit of a serene trust in God's will, and a deep love of Christ's church. I will continue to accompany the church with my prayers, and I ask each of you to pray for me and for the new pope," Benedict said.
Pope Benedict on Thursday will become the first pontiff in almost 600 years to resign.
He will meet with cardinals for a final time before flying by helicopter to the papal residence at Caste Gandolfo, south of Rome. The Swiss Guard that protects him will leave its posts.
His resignation takes effect at 8 p.m. local time, 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Meantime, Cardinal Timothy Dolan arrived in Rome on Wednesday for the conclave to choose the Pope's successor.
He said he is looking forward to Thursday's final meeting with the pope, which he says will be emotional.
Dolan said it will take some time to elect a new pontiff.
The church is hoping to have a new pope installed by March 17, a week before Holy Week.
"We don't have to wait 15 days, thank God, but I think we need a full week - I do. A week of prayer and reflection and getting to know the cardinals better," Dolan said.
Back home at St. Patrick's Cathedral, those attending Mass on Wednesday had kind words for the resigning leader of the Catholic church, and high hopes for the future.
"He brought back the faith of the people, the Catholic people," said one worshiper.
"It's just a very sad day, we just have to move on, and God bless the next pope," said another worshiper.
"I hope the person they get is a little bit younger more in tune with the current state of affairs," noted a third worshipper.
Benedict will be known after his resignation as "Pope Emeritus" and continue to wear white.