He will hold his final general audience on February 27, this time a farewell event for all in St. Peter’s Square, before retiring to a little-known monastery within Vatican walls.
Soon a new pope will be installed in the papal apartments, with his predecessor just a stone’s throw away.
But Benedict will spend his time in prayer rather than giving advice, the Vatican says.
Only one other pope has resigned because of an inability to carry on – Celestine V in 1294 – a humble hermit who stepped down after just a few months saying he could no longer bear the intrigues of Rome.
While some hope Africa or Asia could yield the next pontiff, others have tipped high-flying European or north American cardinals. The new pope will have to face up to the growing secularism in the West, one of the Church’s biggest challenges.
Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson of Ghana, one of two Africans considered a “papabile”, or eligible to become pope, has said the world may be ready for an African pontiff.
“Let God’s will be done,” Turkson told the Rome daily Il Messaggero in an interview published Wednesday.
“The Church has followers everywhere,” said the head of the Vatican’s peace and justice department, adding: “Africa certainly is an important continent for Catholicism, but so is Asia for example. The Church is synonymous with universality… God’s will should be done.”
The 2,000-year-old Church has had three previous popes from Africa, the last dating from the fifth century when the Roman Empire included the northern part of the continent.
They were Victor I at the end of the second century, Miltiades (311-314) and Gelasius I, a pope of Berber origin who ruled from 492-496.