On the morning of February 11, 2013, cardinals gathered in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace were shifting in their seats, waiting for Pope Benedict XVI to conclude the relatively mundane business of announcing three canonisations.
Then Benedict said he had something big to announce:
Quapropter bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commissum renuntiare ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 20, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse.
The jaws of those cardinals with a good command of Latin dropped open. Others half-understood what he’d said but thought they must have misheard. After some embarrassed whispering, the incredible news sank in.
The Pope had just resigned – yes, resigned – and called a conclave to elect his successor. Why? The world had to wait a few minutes until translations of his whole speech were rushed out:
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