Vatican Radio REPORT -IMAGE -SHARE-  To date, 35 thousand people have registered with the Pontifical Household to attend Pope Benedict XVI’s “last great appointment with the People of God”, announced Holy See Press Office director Fr. Federico Lombardi in his daily briefing with journalists Saturday. 

Fr. Lombardi told press that the gathering on Wednesday February 27th will not follow the normal praxis of a general audience; there will be no catechesis but rather a Liturgy of the Word and a celebration of the pontificate. 

He also revealed that the Vatican Television Centre will be broadcasting live Benedict XVI’s departure from the Apostolic Palace on Thursday 28th, following his final farewell to the College of Cardinals. Lombardi confirmed that Pope Benedict is expected to remain in Castel Gandolfo for a period of at least two months.

Until then it’s business as usual. In fact the Vatican Press Office director revealed the Pope’s calm and serenity as he carries out the final public appointments of his pontificate. On Saturday these included a meeting with the President of Guatemala, Italian bishops on their Ad limina pilgrimage and later in the evening with out-going Italian premier Mario Monti.

And the Holy Father is pushing ahead with issues of governance, such as his renewal of the Cardinals Commission charged with overseeing the IOR, or Institute of Religious Works for another 5 year term. 

As of sundown this Sunday, the entire Roman Curia withdraws for a week-long Lenten retreat, led this year by Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Vatican Council for Culture.

During this period all papal appointments are suspended. But, Fr. Lombardi noted, the Pope will still sign documents pertinent to the life of the Church, brought to his attention by his secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein.

Then looking ahead, Fr. Lombardi informed press that the Camerlengo, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is already at work with experts to clarify the steps to be taken during the Sede vacante in preparation for the papal election, according the governing constitutionUniversi Dominici Gregis

He said that the possibility of bringing the date of the conclave forward, before the statutory 15-20 days after the beginning of the Vacant See (March 1st) remained ‘open’. He said it was a decision for the Camerlegno, the Dean on the College of Cardinals and the college itself and very much depended on how quickly all 209 men arrived in Rome.