Hundreds gathered in Providence to pray for outgoing Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, the final day of his pontificate, with the head of Rhode Island's Catholics calling him a pilgrim, prophet and bridge-builder.
At a special noontime Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence called the pope's retirement a "historic and humble and courageous move," saying the pontiff had resigned because of his love for the church.
"He's been a wonderful priest and bishop and pope and we're all grateful for that," Tobin said.
Tobin offered prayers for the man who will be known as the pope emeritus after stepping down for what he said were health reasons. Benedict has been pope since 2005 and is the first pope in 600 years to resign.
The church was filled to capacity with everyone from children in Catholic school uniforms to professionals in suits. Rhode Island is one of the country's most Catholic states.
Tobin said that when he last met the pope in November 2011 during an official visit to the Vatican, he introduced himself as being from the Diocese of Providence.
"Pope Benedict said, 'Ah, Providence - a beautiful name for a diocese,'" Tobin recalled. "And indeed it is."
Liz Ricci of East Providence, who attended the Mass on her day off, said it was important to her to pray for Benedict and whoever will be named the new pope - a decision to be made by a conclave of cardinals who will gather in Rome.
Ricci said she had left the church for seven years a few decades ago but then returned.
"I just think the Lord's got the whole thing under control," she said.
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