Pope Benedict XVI has made his first public appearance since announcing his resignation.
Cheered by thousands during his traditional weekly audience at the Vatican, Benedict said that he was resigning his position as the head of the Roman Catholic Church "for the good of the church."
At the start of his audience, he repeated in Italian what he had told cardinals Monday in Latin: that he simply didn't have the strength to continue. He said "I did this in full liberty for the good of the church."
He asked the faithful "to continue to pray for the pope and the church" and he thanked the public for their "love and prayers."
The pope, 85, is expected to step down at the end of this month.
BBC television reported, citing Reuters, that the conclave -- the process by which the next pope is chosen -- will begin in the week after Mar. 15.
USA TODAY's Kim Hjelmgaard; Associated Press