Pope Benedict XVI began a week-long spiritual retreat out of the public eye yesterday ahead of his resignation, with the cardinal leading the prayers saying he hoped they would be an "oasis", AAP reports in the Herald Sun.
The pope will remain in the Vatican with some of his closest aides for the traditional pre-Easter retreat and will only take a short break each day to meet with his secretary Georg Gaenswein to deal with urgent Church matters.
He will be praying together with the Roman Curia - effectively the government of the Catholic Church - in a private chapel in his residence.
The Vatican's culture minister, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi - seen as a possible long-shot candidate for the papacy - has been selected to lead the retreat this year and has written 17 spiritual "meditations" for the week.
"After the storm, my task will be to create a moment of oasis," Ravasi said in an interview with Vatican radio before the beginning of the retreat.
"The pope wanted it himself and he did not cancel. This moment of silence, this white space, really has the sense of passing to the new horizon towards which the pope is moving and in which we too will have to live."
After the retreat, the outgoing pope will receive Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on February 23, celebrate his final Sunday prayer on February 24, and hold a last audience before tens of thousands of faithful on February 27.
FULL STORY Pope begins week-long spiritual retreat (Herald Sun)
Biographer says Pope exhausted and disheartened (NCR)