VATICAN CITY — He circumnavigated St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile for the last time. He gave his final waves to cheering masses. And most profoundly, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed his valedictory words to the world in a heartfelt, sometimes wistful address that highlighted the price of being a pope — and its rays of happiness.
His eight-year papacy held moments of ‘‘joy and light,’’ at times resembling the boat carrying Peter and the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee, enjoying many days of sun, gentle breezes, and abundant fish, Benedict told tens of thousands of people during his general audience, which was moved to a sun-soaked St. Peter’s Square from the usual auditorium to accommodate the crowd.
‘‘There were also moments in which the waters were agitated and the wind contrary,’’ he said. ‘‘The Lord seemed to be sleeping.’’
Benedict, 85, resigns Thursday, exiting the papacy at 8 p.m. In the morning, he meets the cardinals who will elect his successor next month. At 5 p.m. a helicopter will fly him to his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, where he is expected to wave to well-wishers and utter a few words.
By 8:01 p.m., he will have the title ‘‘pope emeritus.’’
Church officials said 150,000 people had gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. They waved flags, applauded, and chanted ‘‘Benedetto’’ under a brilliant blue sky, as the pope, clad in a white, double-breasted overcoat, spoke to them mainly in Italian but also gave brief remarks in other languages. The popemobile halted several times so its occupant could kiss babies handed up to him.
In the most personal part of his speech, Benedict drove home a central truth for any world-renowned figure: privacy does not exist — a message that could be considered a warning to his successor.
Recalling the day he was elected pope on April 19, 2005, Benedict said he took on a forever job.
‘‘He who assumes the ministry of Peter no longer has any privacy,’’ he said. ‘‘He belongs forever and totally to all people, to all the church. The private dimension is totally, so to speak, removed from his life.’’
And that will not change, he said, despite the fact that he has given up his ministry and is turning to a life of prayer, without the trips, meetings, receptions, and conferences that make up so much of a pope’s life.
‘‘There is no returning to the private,’’ Benedict said, but he will serve the church ‘‘in a new way.’’
Stirring the waters of the Benedict years were a contagion of child sexual abuse scandals involving priests, missteps that provoked the anger of some Jews, Muslims, and Anglicans, and the leaking of damaging internal Vatican documents. More recently, Italian news reports have said an investigation by three cardinals into the leaked documents has detailed corruption in the Vatican ranks.
Benedict, the first pope in nearly 600 years to step down voluntarily, repeated the explanation he proffered in making the announcement Feb. 11.
He said he took the step fully aware of its seriousness and novelty, ‘‘but with a profound serenity of spirit.’’
About 70 cardinals were seated in the square. The cardinals plan to gather Monday to set the date for the conclave to begin.