VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican said Tuesday that Pope Benedict XVI will stick to his busy schedule of public appearances until he steps down on Feb. 28, even as it revealed that Benedict had been fitted with a pacemaker.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope had been fitted with the pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat before he was elected pope in 2005 but that it had not played a role in his decision to resign.
"It had no influence on the decision. The reasons were in his perception that his strength had diminished with advancing age," Lombardi said.
Lombardi revealed for the first time that Benedict had the batteries replaced in the pacemaker three months ago in Rome in a routine procedure.
Lombardi also said that the conclave of cardinals to elect Benedict’s successor could start in mid-March. “There were 17 days between the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict, and we can expect a similar thing,” he said. “The cardinals should know they should be in Rome in the first half of March.”
Benedict will attend his weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday morning before holding an Ash Wednesday service in the afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica. The event has been moved from the smaller church in Rome where it is traditionally held to accommodate expected well-wishers.
“There will be the faithful who want to pray with the Holy Father and a number of important cardinals,” said Lombardi.
On Thursday Benedict will address Rome’s priests ahead of his Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, where “people will come to show their support and affection for the pope,” said Lombardi.
Benedict’s final public appearance will be the general audience on Feb. 27, which will be moved from a hall at the Vatican into St. Peter’s Square to accommodate the expected crowds, said Lombardi.
One thing Benedict will not do is interfere in the election of his successor, said Lombardi.“The pope will say nothing about the process of the election, he will not intervene in any way. You can be sure the cardinals will be autonomous.”
Lombardi explained why Benedict had specifically stated that he would step down at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28. “It is the end of the pope’s normal working day.”
Benedict will move from his papal apartment at the Vatican to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome while a building in the Vatican gardens which once housed nuns is converted for him to move into. The Mater Ecclesiae monastery was built in 1992 on the orders of Pope John Paul II, who wanted a place to host contemplative religious orders.
“He walks there every day and knows it very well,” Lombardi said of Benedict, whose move-in date is still up in the air. “Anyone who has experience of builders in the house will know these things are difficult to predict."
Lombardi said there was still no decision on what to do with the papal ring that Benedict wears and uses for seals. On the death of a pope the seal is traditionally destroyed.
As for his title, Lombardi said he would continue to be known as Benedict XVI, and would not return to being a cardinal. “It is difficult to call him cardinal after he was pope,” he said. All popes are automatically appointed bishop of Rome, and Lombardi said Benedict would become the bishop emeritus of the city.