Pope Benedict XVI left Vatican City Thursday for the last time as leader of the billion-member Roman Catholic Church, heading by helicopter to his summer residence where he is due to spend the last hours of his pontificate before stepping down.

When he arrives at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer palace overlooking Lake Albano south of Rome, the pope is expected to greet a crowd of faithful and the local parish priest.

Then, at 8 p.m., the pope’s resignation—the first of its kind in six centuries—will take effect.

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