VATICAN CITY, Feb. 28, 2013 -- VATICAN CITY -- Benedict XVI's eight-year tenure as pope ended today, after he bade farewell to the faithful and departed the Vatican as the first pope to resign in six centuries.
"Thank you for your love and support," the pope tweeted from his Pontifex account. "May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."
With church bells ringing across Rome, the pope was driven to the helipad on the Vatican grounds for the 15-minute flight to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence where he assumed the title "pope emeritus" after 8 p.m. local time.
When Benedict arrived at the residence just south of Rome, he was greeted by a crowd of supporters waving flags and banners.
"I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth," he told them.
In his final remarks earlier in the day to colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict had promised "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his eventual successor. At a morning meeting at the Vatican, Benedict urged the cardinals to act "like an orchestra" to find "harmony" moving forward.
Benedict, 85, spent a quiet final day as pope, bidding farewell to his colleagues and moving on to a secluded life of prayer, far from the grueling demands of the papacy and the scandals that have recently plagued the church.
His first order of business was a morning meeting with the cardinals in the Clementine Hall, a room in the Apostolic Palace.
Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, thanked Benedict for his service to the church during the eight years he has spent as pontiff.
When Benedict's resignation took effect once and for all at 8 p.m. local time, the Swiss Guards left his side for the last time, their time protecting the pontiff completed.
For some U.S. Catholics in Rome for the historic occasion, Benedict's departure was bittersweet.
Christopher Kerzich, a Chicago resident studying at the Pontifical North American College of Rome, said Wednesday he is sad to see Benedict leave, but excited to see what comes next.
"Many Catholics have come to love this pontiff, this very humble man," Kerzich said. "He is a man who's really fought this and prayed this through and has peace in his heart. I take comfort in that and I think a lot of Catholics should take comfort in that."
The date of the conclave to determine Benedict's successor has yet to be determined. In one of his last moves as pope, Benedict issued a decree permitting the cardinals to convene the conclave before the March 15 date that would have been required under the old rules.
Benedict is eventually planning to move to a monastery inside Vatican City once work there is finished, but until then he will call home the palace at Castel Gandolfo. He will be known as "pope emeritus" and don brown shoes given to him on his trip to Mexico, rather than the red ones he wore as pontiff.