NEWORLEANS - On Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI will fly off into retirement, becoming the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
The pope will meet with the College of Cardinals for one final time, and then he will take a helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, which is the summer residence of the pope located about 15 miles southeast of Rome.
After nearly eight years, he will step down as the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
Tens of thousands packed the Vatican to get one last look at their pope, and the attention of the large Catholic population in New Orleans was focused on the event.
He is scheduled to leave Rome at 5 p.m., which is 10 a.m. New Orleans time, and his resignation will take effect at 8 p.m., which is 1 p.m. New Orleans time. After nearly eight years, he will step down as the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
Many in the city recall September 12, 1987, the date Pope John Paul II visited the St. Louis Cathedral and spent the entire day with the masses. His trip to New Orleans lasted three days.
The cardinals will meet Monday to decide when to set the date for the Conclave, which is a ritual where all cardinals under the age of 80 decide who will be the next leader of the Catholic Church.
Cardinals hope to have the next pope selected by Easter on March 31.
Masses at St. Louis Cathedral will remain on schedule and occur at 7:30 a.m. and noon.