In this image taken from video as Pope Benedict XVI deliveres his final greetings to the assembly of cardinals at the Vatican Thursday Feb. 28, 2013, before he retires in just a few hours. Benedict urged the cardinals to work in unity and promised his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor in his final words to his cardinals Thursday in a poignant and powerful farewell before he becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. (AP Photo/Vatican TV)
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Benedict XVI has left the Vatican 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.
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.
Before leaving, Benedict pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.