Pope calls for 'renewal' in Catholic Church before historic resignation

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called for "real renewal" in the Catholic Church at an emotional farewell ceremony with priests from his Rome diocese and told them he would be "hidden from the world" after he resigns at the end of this month.

"We must work for the realisation of the real Council and for a real renewal of the Church," the pope said in a rare off-the-cuff speech, referring to the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.

"Even though I am retiring for prayer now, I will always be close to all of you and I am sure you will remain close to me even though I will be hidden from the world."

The 85-year-old pontiff spoke of his personal experiences as a young reformer priest and the "enthusiasm" of the Council, which changed the face of Catholicism by overhauling archaic rituals like mass in Latin.

Benedict has since turned far more conservative in his outlook and on Thursday he condemned false expectations of radical change from the Council, saying they had created "a lot of misery".

As priests applauded and chanted "Long Live the Pope!", Benedict told them: "I will always be with you and together we will go with the Lord in the certainty that the Lord will be victorious." The event came a day after emotional scenes at his final public mass in St Peter's Basilica, after saying Monday that his advancing age prevented him from keeping up with the modern world.

Thousands of tearful priests, nuns and ordinary faithful applauded the pope at the Ash Wednesday mass marking the start of Lent.

Cardinals thanked the outgoing pontiff for his service, doffing their mitres as a mark of respect.

The pope waved and smiled at the crowd, appearing relieved following his momentous announcement, which will make him only the second pope to resign in the Church's 2,000-year history and the first to do so in 700 years.

His final homily was a hard-hitting one, condemning the "hypocrisy" of those who use their religion just for show. He also urged an end to "rivalry" and "divisions" within a Church beset in recent years by a series of scandals.