Thousands register for Pope’s final audience.

Thousands register for Pope's final audience | Pope Benedict XVI’s final audience, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, Vatican Television Centre

Fr Lombardi

Fr Lombardi said Pope Benedict is expected to remain in Castel Gandolfo for a period of at least two months.

Up to his last day in office, Pope Benedict will continue his daily duties. On Saturday these included a meeting with the President of Guatemala, Italian bishops on their Ad limina pilgrimage and later in the evening with out-going Italian premier Mario Monti.

The Holy Father is working on issues of governance, such as his renewal of the Cardinals Commission charged with overseeing the Institute of Religious Works for another five year term.

From Sunday evening, the entire Roman Curia withdraws for a week-long Lenten retreat, led this year by Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Vatican Council for Culture.

During this period all papal appointments are suspended. But, Fr Lombardi noted, the Pope will still sign documents pertinent to the life of the Church, brought to his attention by his secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein.

Looking ahead, Fr Lombardi said the Camerlengo, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is already at work with experts to clarify the steps to be taken during the Sede vacante in preparation for the papal election, according the governing constitution Universi Dominici Gregis.

He said that the possibility of bringing the date of the conclave forward, before the statutory 15-20 days after the beginning of the Vacant See (1 March 1) remained ‘open’. He said it was a decision for the Camerlegno, the Dean on the College of Cardinals and the college itself and very much depended on how quickly all 209 men could arrive in Rome.