PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- Pope Benedict XVI's resignation became official on Thursday afternoon.
The Pontiff met with cardinals one last time before flying by helicopter to the papal summer residence south of Rome. His resignation became official at 8 p.m. in the Vatican, which is 2 p.m. here.
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The Vatican will begin the search for his holiness's replacement once Benedict leaves the Vatican, and that search could potentially include Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley .
"There's been some buzz about whether he's a good candidate to be Pope. I actually think his stock has gone up a bit", said Dr. James Keating, Professor of Theology at Providence College.
In Rhode Island, hundreds of Catholics from across the state attended a special noon mass held by Bishop Thomas Tobin at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence.
One of them was Reverend Joseph Escobar, who once co-celebrated a mass His Holiness in New York City. Father Escobar is the only Rhode Island priest ever to have done so.
"When you actually saw him standing there in front of you, it was an unbelievable moment," recalled Fr. Escobar. "It gave me goosebumps, to tell you the truth."
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Back in Rome, tens of thousands greeted Pope Benefit as he enters retirement in his last appearance as Pope.
Earlier Thursday morning, Dr. Keating said it would be an exciting day but with a little more drama due to recent scandals involving inappropriate conduct by some of the Catholic church's clergy.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Scotland, one of the Cardinals that was supposed to be there has resigned, after being accused of committing inappropriate acts.
"It's not quite what people were thinking because there's lots of scandal and tension now. It's not quite the grand send off", Dr. Keating said.
The 85-year-old Pope is expected to stay at the summer resident for a few months before returning to Vatican City.
He will eventually move into a monastery behind Saint Peter's Basilica that has been a home for cloistered nuns to enter a life of prayer and meditation.
But before the search begins and a new Pope is announced, Catholics across the world will celebrate the life and work of the one who is leaving.
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