Nightly News   |  February 17, 2013

Thousands saying thank you to Pope Benedict XVI

With the days of his papacy dwindling, every public appearance of outgoing Pope Benedict are now a must see event, NBC’s Ann Thompson reports.

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>>> it was an overwhelming display of affection outside the vatican today as tens of thousands crowded st. peter's square for one of pope benedict xvi final public appearances. the pope will set step dune 11 days from now setting in motion the search for a new leader and maybe a new direction for the catholic church . nbc's anne thompson is at the vat tan cannes tonight with more. anne?

>> reporter: good evening, lester. tonight, the pope is on a week-long lenten retreat inside vatican with the dives his papacy numbered. now, every public appearance of benedict sass must-s -- benedict 's is a mist-see event. for more than 50,000 people, this was the place to be a vigil of faithful and curious in st. peter's square to say thank you and good-bye to pope benedict xvi .

>> i definitely wanted to come and witness it.

>> reporter: 20-year-old thaddius howard of georgia brought an american flag .

>> i wanted to let the pope know that he is supported by all of us from america.

>> reporter: in six different languages, benedict addressed the crowd.

>> thank you for the prayers and support you have shown me. are.are in german, he spoke of his difficult days. [ speaking german ]

>> reporter: in spanish, he asked for prayers for himself and the future pope. [ speaking spanish ]

>> reporter: benedict 's retirement creates a situation not seen in the church in centuries two living popes. john thavis who could have earth the vatican for 30 years says benedict is not a meddler.

>> he probably will ensure whatever he does, woe never upstage the next pope.

>> reporter: while appreciated today as a holy man, critics say benedict 's executive skills fell woefully short.

>> there's a need for someone who has managerial skills in terms of running the ship of state . neither john paul ii nor benedict were managers by nature.

>> reporter: benedict 's failures made public in documents leaked by his butler last year, laying out the betrayals and infighting in the vatican bureaucracy known as the cure ya, on securing the pope's message and hurting his efforts to revitalize the church. how much of that can be blamed on the kur rhea?

>> i think most of it, frankly.

>> reporter: george weigle, nbc's vatican analyst, says that leaves the next pope with a crucial task.

>> he has to find someone who can clean house and who can make the cure ya an instrument of what we call the new eadvantage lizization now, an impediment to t.

>> reporter: still up in the air, the date when the cardinals will actually start getting down to work to choose a new successor. currently, the conclave is scheduled to start some time between march 15th and march 20th , but the vatican says that date could be moved up. lester?

>> anne thompson in rome tonight.