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LA STAMPA (Italy), VATICAN NEWS (Vatican), BBC (UK),

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VATICAN CITY- After a sometimes bumpy eight-year rule, and a surprise decision to become the first pope in 600 years to retire, Benedict XVI steps down from the papacy at 8 pm local time.

Benedict met Thursday morning for the final time as pontiff with the Cardinals, most of whom (those under 80) are set to begin the process of choosing his successor.

La Stampa reported that the 85-year-old pontiff thanked the gathering of Cardinals, and vowed "unconditional...obedience" to the man they choose to succeed him.

Screenshot from BBC

"The Church is not a institution devised by someone or built at the table, but it’s a living reality that changes itself, yet its nature remains the same and its nature is Christ," he told the gathering. "This is what we experienced yesterday in the piazza, seeing that the Church is a living body. It is in this world but is not not of this world.”

He concluded with a message about his successor. “I want to tell you that I will continue to be close with prayer, especially in the next few days so that you are fully submissive to the action of the Holy Spirit during the election of the new Pope. May the Lord show you what is willed by Him among you is the future Pope, to whom I promise today my unconditional reverence and obedience."

La Stampa reports that Benedict greeted each "Prince of the Church" individually following his address. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from Manila whispered jokes to Benedict, making him smile, while Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, also entertained him and said “thank you, Holy Father.” Both have been mentioned as potential "papabili," whom their fellow Cardinals may be considering for pope.

Screenshot from BBC

Amidst scandal surrounding him in the U.S., Roger Mahony, the former Archbishop of Los Angeles was present, and appears prepared to participate in the conclave that elects the next pope.

La Stampa reports that Benedict will leave for Castel Gandolfo - the summer residence, 24 kilometers southeast of Rome - where he will spend the next two months, by helicopter at 5 pm. At 5:30pm he will greet the faithful at the square in front of the Palazzo and this is to be his final appearance as Roman Pontiff in office.

Officially, Joseph Ratzinger will become an “Emeritus Pope” at 8 pm, but the only sign of this will be the closing of the door of Castel Gandolfo when the Swiss Guards will leave their service and return to the Vatican at the very moment Benedict XVI is no longer reigning Pope.

On March 4, the Cardinals will meet for talks at which they will set a date for the commencement of the conclave.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Ukraine Is Turning Into A "New Israel" — Where Everyone Is A Soldier

From businessmen to farmers, Ukrainian society has been militarizing for the past six months to defend its sovereignty. In the future it may find itself like Israel, permanently armed to protect its sovereignty.

Ukrainian civilians learn how to shoot and other military skills at a shooting range in Lviv on July 30, 2022.

Guillaume Ptak

KYIV — The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point. Vladimir Putin's army has suffered its worst setback since the beginning of the invasion. The Russian army has experienced a counter-offensive that many experts consider masterful, so it must retreat and cede vast territories to its opponent.

The lightning victory that the head of the Kremlin had dreamed of never took place. The losses are considerable — Ukrainian troops on the battlefield now outnumber the Russians.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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On April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted that at the end of the conflict, Ukraine would become a "big Israel". In an interview with Ukrainian media, he said then, "In all the institutions, supermarkets, cinemas, there will be people with weapons."

The problem of national security will be the country's most important one in the next decade. An "absolutely liberal, and European" society would therefore no longer be on the agenda, according to the Ukrainian president.

Having long since swapped his suit and tie for a jacket or a khaki T-shirt during his public appearances, Zelensky has undeniably become one of the symbols of this growing militarization of Ukrainian society. However, the president claimed that Ukraine would not become an "authoritarian" regime: "An authoritarian state would lose to Russia. Ukrainians know what they are fighting for."

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