VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has released Pope Benedict's schedule for Thursday, when he'll become the first pontiff to retire in almost 600 years.
The 85-year-old Benedict will meet with his cardinals Thursday morning and then helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, the papal residence south of Rome. He'll greet parishioners there from the balcony, his final public act as pope.
At 8:00 p.m. in Italy -- 2:00 p.m. Eastern time in the U.S. -- Benedict's retirement will become official and the papal seat will stand vacant. His Swiss Guards will then go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church finished.
The pope-emeritus, as Benedict will be called, will remain at Castel Gandolfo as the cardinals meet to choose his successor.
He'll later return to a monastery being renovated at the Vatican for what's expected to be a quiet life of prayer.