What has been described as the largest crowd since the death of Blessed John Paul II, packed St Peter’s Square for Pope Benedict XVI’s final General Audience. Present was more than 150,000 people ranging from mothers who had left their children to school, young people with drums, groups with banners, priests of the Diocese of Rome, clergy, nuns and lay people from all over the world, and scores of Cardinals who have already arrived for the conclave.

Among those in attendance were Fr Mark Mohan (CC Trim), Fr Tony Gonoude (CC Holy Family, Drogheda) and Fr Kevin Heery (CC Navan).

Benedict XVI’s first greeting was to thank people for coming in such large numbers.  The Pope said that during the eight years since his election the Lord had guided him and he felt God’s presence every day. He said that like St. Peter and the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee

“The Lord has given us many days of sunshine and light breezes, days when the fishing was plentiful, but also times when the water was rough and the winds against us, just as throughout the whole history of the Church, when the Lord seemed to be sleeping. But I always knew that the Lord is in that boat and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but is His. And the Lord will not let it sink.”

Click here for the full text of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech.

Speaking from his pilgrimage to Rome, Fr Kevin Heery sums up the scene in the Eternal City:

“These are amazing and historic days, with huge crowds in St Peter’s Square filled with overwhelming emotions, some festive and some sad.  People came here to say goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI and to thank him for his wisdom, his teaching and the example of his humility, even as he steered the boat of the Church one last time.”