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“Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.” @ 4:00 PM – 28 Feb 2013 on Twitter. 

Pope Benedict gave his final public address to 150,000 of the faithful in St. Peter’s Square today, and sent his final tweet to over 1,500,000 followers on twitter.

Pope Benedict urged the Church to engage in social media to spread the faith to the next generation, saying: “The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”

Benedict left the Vatican onboard a helicopter bound for a seaside papal residence near Rome at 11 a.m ET. Benedict’s retirement will become official at 8 p.m. ET Thursday, when he will gain the newly created title of “pope emeritus.”

He promised in a speech on Thursday his “unconditional reverence and obedience” towards his yet-unchosen successor, who will be picked by a conclave of cardinals expected to begin deliberations in a few weeks. It has been 600 years since a pope retired from the position, making this particular conclave a unique event in modern Catholicism.