Pope Benedict: 'I'm Not Abandoning the Church'

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As one of his last acts before resigning Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI is changing some rules to ensure a quick transition for his replacement just in time for Holy Week.

Benedict changed the rules so that cardinals can elect a new pope immediately after his resignation. The caveat is that all the cardinals must arrive in Rome before the usual 15-day transition.

Pope Benedict hopes to ensure new leadership by March 17. Holy Week begins March 24.

Meanwhile, Benedict delivered his last Sunday blessing in St. Peter's Square, reading prepared remarks as he stood at the window of the Apostolic Palace.

Thousands cheered and applauded enthusiastically as he greeted them in seven different languages.

Benedict told the crowd God has called him to go up on the mountain and dedicate himself to prayer and meditation.

"But this doesn't mean abandoning the church," he said. "On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it (the Church) with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength."

The 85-year-old pontiff will officially step down on Thursday.

No date has been set for the start of the conclave of cardinals, who will choose Benedict's successor by secret vote.

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