MIAMI - South Florida Catholics said goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI, who left Vatican City for the last time Thursday.
An honor guard of Swiss Guards, the soldiers who traditionally protect the pope, lined up to bid him farewell as he left the papal apartment, alongside senior Vatican officials and staff.
Applause swelled as Benedict, looking frail and carrying a cane, climbed into a car that took him to the helicopter that flew him to the summer papal residence, Castel Gandolfo.
The sound of bells from St. Peter's Basilica chimed across the city of Rome as the helicopter soared overhead, passing above landmarks like the Colosseum.
At St. Mary Cathedral, students will learn about the conclave and how a pope is elected as it happens.
"Experience is definitely the best teacher," said Sister Mary Fernandez, the principal at St. Mary Cathedral School. "In the upper grades, we will be teaching the actual conclave and the actual process of the election, especially what the white smoke and what the black smoke means."
But some of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics who live in South Florida fear the unknown.
"People fear. It shouldn't happen for the kids. We feel like it's a breakdown. It's a breakdown so we need to keep praying," said Guirlene Bastien.
"God is present. God provides. God gave us Benedict and God will give us another holy father," said Father Christopher Marino. "God does not abandon us."
"We pray to God that the pope that comes, that he may be better or the same as Pope Benedict XVII," said Jose Pina.
Archbishop Thomas Wenksi issued a statement Thursday, saying in part: "We thank God for the gift of this good servant of Jesus Christ, Pope Benedict. We pray that the cardinals will be guided by the Holy Spirit as they elect a new pope."
St. Mary's held a prayer service in honor of the pope Thursday afternoon.
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