Pope Benedict XVI arrived at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer palace overlooking Lake Albano south of Rome, and greeted a crowd of faithful and the local parish priest.

The Pope appeared at a window overlooking the public square in Castel Gandolfo to bless a cheering crowd.

“Thank you very much for your friendship,” Benedict said.

“As of 20:00 (19:00 GMT) I’ll no longer be a pontiff – I’m going to become a pilgrim about to start his last journey on this earth.

“Let’s go forward with God for the good of the Church and the world.”

In his final tweet, Benedict wrote: “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”

Benedict’s formal resignation as pope will be marked when the Swiss Guards at the gate of Castel Gandolfo march off for their return to the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI will cease to be the Pope at 19:00 GMT and his deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will be in charge until a new pope is elected next month.