"I am simply a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his journey."
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Benedict XVI has left the Vatican for the last time as pope, flying by helicopter to the Vatican's vacation retreat hours before becoming the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
As his closest aide wept by his side, Benedict bade farewell to Vatican officials gathered in the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, a corps of Swiss Guards standing by at attention.
Benedict traveled by car to the helipad on the top of the hill of the Vatican gardens and boarded a helicopter along with his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, for the 15-minute trip to Castel Gandolfo. Bells tolled as the helicopter took off.
Before leaving, Benedict pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.
Benedict arrived at Castel Gandolfo after an emotional sendoff from the Vatican. Bells tolled as he left the Vatican by helicopter and did a fly-by around St. Peter's Square. They tolled anew as he arrived in Castel Gandolfo, where the central piazza was jammed with people eager to capture the historic moment.
Benedict XVI was on the balcony at Castel Gandolfo for a little over a minute, speaking his last public words as pope. "I am simply a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his journey," the 85-year-old told the crowd, wearing only a white robe in the chilly evening air.
They shouted back "Long live the pope!"
"Thank you, goodnight!" Benedict replied before going back inside the palace.
A few minutes later, aides came out on the balcony, pulled off the papal banner, rolled it up and brought it inside the palace. The glass doors to the balcony were quickly clicked shut and the white curtains behind them tightly drawn. Within seconds, the crowd of a few thousand in the piazza dwindled to a few hundred.