“Thank you very much for your friendship,” the pope said from the balcony of the Vatican to the 7000 strong crowd in the square below.

“As of 20:00 (19:00 GMT) I’ll no longer be a pontiff. I Will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth.

“Let’s go forward with god for the of the church and the world.”

Pope Benedict XVI becomes the first pope to step down in more than 600 years.

Photo: Getty.