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Pope Celebrates Last Public Mass as Pontiff

Pope Benedict XVI

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI is celebrating his last public Mass as pontiff, presiding over Ash Wednesday services inside the packed St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Looking tired, the 85-year-old Benedict was wheeled down the central aisle as a choir sang, preceded by dozens of cardinals.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, the most solemn season in the church’s liturgical calendar that ends with Holy Week and Easter Sunday.

Wearing heavy purple vestments, Benedict referred to his pending Feb. 28 resignation in his homily, asking for the prayers of the faithful.