(ABC NEWS) -- Pope Benedict XVI bade his final farewell to the faithful Thursday, lifting off from the Vatican in a white helicopter as the first pope to resign in six centuries.
Just before 5 p.m. local time, Benedict, 85, walked out of the Vatican for the last time as pope, waving to a cheering crowd in the Courtyard of San Damaso as he entered a black Mercedes for the short drive to a nearby heliport.
In a tweet sent from Benedict XVI ?@Pontifex as his motorcade rolled to the heliport, Benedict said, "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."
With church bells ringing across Rome, he then embarked on the 15-minute flight to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence just south of the city and his home for the coming months.
In his final remarks earlier in the day to colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict had promised "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his eventual successor.
Benedict, in a morning meeting at the Vatican, urged the cardinals to act "like an orchestra" to find "harmony" moving forward.
Benedict, 85, is spending a quiet final day as pope, bidding farewell to his colleagues and moving on to a secluded life of prayer, far from the grueling demands of the papacy and the scandals that have recently plagued the church.
His first order of business was a morning meeting with the cardinals in the Clementine Hall, a room in the Apostolic Palace. Despite the historical nature of Benedict's resignation, not all cardinals attended the event.
Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, thanked Benedict for his service to the church during the eight years he has spent as pontiff.
In the evening, at 5:00 p.m. local time, Benedict will leave the Vatican palace for the last time to head to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence outside Rome. Before his departure, the German-born theologian will say some goodbyes in the Courtyard of San Damaso, inside the Vatican, first to his Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and then to the Swiss Guards who have protected him as pontiff.
From there it is a short drive to a heliport for the 15-minute flight via helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, just south of the city. Benedict will not be alone on his journey, accompanied by members of the Pontifical Household such as two private secretaries, the head of protocol, his personal physician and his butler.
Once Benedict lands in the gardens at Castel Gandolfo, he will be greeted by a group of dignitaries, such as the governor of the Vatican City state Giovanni Bertello, two bishops, the director of the pontifical villas, and the mayor and parish priest. Off the helicopter and into a car, Benedict will head to the palace that he will call home for the coming months. From a window of the palace, Benedict will make one final wave to the crowd at the papal retreat.
It is there, at 8:00 p.m., that Benedict's resignation will take effect once and for all. Once the gates to the residence close, the Swiss Guards will leave Benedict's side for the last time, their time protecting the pontiff completed.
For some U.S. Catholics in Rome for the historic occasion, Benedict's departure is bittersweet. Christopher Kerzich, a Chicago resident studying at the Pontifical North American College of Rome, said Wednesday he is sad to see Benedict leave, but excited to see what comes next.
"Many Catholics have come to love this pontiff, this very humble man," Kerzich said. "He is a man who's really fought this and prayed this through and has peace in his heart. I take comfort in that and I think a lot of Catholics should take comfort in that."
In his final address to the faithful as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict Wednesday said his decision to resign was "the fruit of a serene trust in God's will and a deep love of Christ's Church."
Before a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square, Benedict said he was "deeply grateful for the understanding, support, and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also throughout the world."
The date of the conclave to determine Benedict's successor has yet to be determined. In one of his last moves as pope, Benedict issued a decree permitting the cardinals to convene the conclave before the March 15 date that would have been required under the old rules.
Benedict is eventually planning to move to a monastery inside Vatican City once work there is finished, but until then he will call home the palace at Castel Gandolfo. He will be known as "pope emeritus" and don brown shoes given to him on his trip to Mexico, rather than the red ones he wore as pontiff.
Click here for more about this story from ABC News.