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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Pope Benedict XVI's Last Day at the Vatican

Aired February 28, 2013 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN HOST: In just over nine hours, Pope Benedict XVI will no longer be pope. He is about to carry out his last charge. He will be meeting, one by one, with the cardinals who will ultimately choose his successor, his successor probably amongst those cardinals.

Welcome back to a special edition of EARLY START. We're happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm John Berman. It is 30 minutes past 4 o'clock right now in the East. Welcome back to CNN's live coverage of the pope's final hours of the spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

SAMBOLIN: Pope Benedict XVI becomes pope emeritus at 2 o'clock Eastern time -- that's this afternoon -- that's when he begins a new chapter: retirement. But there's still one final day of unfinished business. At 5:00 am Eastern, just half an hour from now, the pope meets with the cardinals who face the daunting task of choosing his successor.

Over 100 of them are expected to be on hand. The Vatican says the pontiff will spend a minute or two with each one of them one-on-one.

BERMAN: Then Cardinal Angelo Sodano is scheduled to deliver a brief statement. He's the dean of the College of Cardinals. That's a post Pope Benedict XVI himself once held. Finally, Pope Benedict XVI is expected to make a few final spontaneous remarks and then later this morning, at about 10:45 Eastern time he'll leave his papal residence one last time.

SAMBOLIN: And we're witnessing something truly historic this morning, a sitting pope resigning, something no living human has ever witnessed. Something no living human's great-great-great grandfather has ever witnessed either.

Benedict, Pope Benedict XVI, is leaving behind a Vatican embroiled in scandal, as you very well know, and a flock in search of new direction.

CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is live from Rome this morning.

Good morning to you, Christiane. The big question is, will the church remain as conservative as it is now?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that really is the multimillion dollar question. The likelihood is yes, to be very frank. But I'm smiling because the way you put it is absolutely true.

These are unchartered waters. No one knows what it actually is like to have a pope abdicate because, as you say, it's more than six and seven centuries since that last happened.

So what are we going to be looking for to the future? How will the direction of the church go?

Most likely in a similar direction, although a lot of people who I'm talking to, including cardinals and priests and the others, say that there does need to be a sense of some kind of reform to deal with the very serious issues of governability, whether it's about putting to rest and really ending all the unfinished business over the priest sex abuse scandals, whether it's the allegations of financial mismanagement. All of those things, there needs to be a sense of greater governability.

I'm joined here by John Allen, our senior Vatican analyst, who's been watching this for years, was with me back in 2005, of course, as CNN really watched and were here, vigil over the death of Pope John Paul II, and watched Pope Benedict XVI be elected.

So John, welcome again. The next order of business, in about half an hour, will be this final meeting, this sort of face time between Pope Benedict and his cardinals, 67 of whom he has elevated, (INAUDIBLE), at least 90 (ph). Give us a breakdown of who he's meeting and who amongst those will be electing the next pope.

JOHN ALLEN, SR. VATICAN ANALYST: Well, first of all -- I'll get to that in a minute. But first of all, Christiane, it's apropos of how extraordinary this day is.

You'll remember in 2005 we thought we were privileged to be witnesses to history for something that we hadn't seen in 27 years, which was the election of a pope. There are no YouTube clips of Celestine V stepping down in 1294. I mean, this really is a front-row seat at history unfolding.

In terms of the cardinals who will be there this morning, the Vatican has told us more than 100. They're not exactly sure, because not every cardinal has informed them of his travel plans.

But in that group will not be merely cardinals under 80 who will be casting ballots when they file into the Sistine Chapel to elect the next pope but also a number of over 80 cardinals. Some of the cardinal electors are still getting into Rome this morning. Others are waiting to see when the date of the conclave is going to be set because they're trying to take care of some business at home.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that those who are here or those who are in contact with each other by modern (INAUDIBLE), have been talking about the conclave, have been discussing already amongst themselves how it will unfold, who they might choose, already making alliances? Or is that sort of a no-no at this point? ALLEN: I would say those conversations are going on, but they are deliberately discreet. It is sort of seen as impolitic to be discussing the next papacy while the current one hasn't ended yet. But obviously, I mean, these guys know what a momentous decision it is they're being called upon to make. I mean, the papacy is the most visible position of religious leadership on the planet.

It has consequences well beyond the borders of the Catholic Church. This is the single most important thing a cardinal will ever do in his life. And so, clearly, they're thinking about it for themselves and quietly -- sotto voce -- discussing it with one other.

AMANPOUR: And as John says, the single biggest faith leader, 1.2 billion in his flock. So the pope, when he talks about anything, affects the very intricate details of 1.2 billion people's lives, and more than that. He pronounces on how we should live our lives. He pronounces on issues such as medicine, stem cell research, genetics, all of that, euthanasia. Give us a sense of why this matters.

ALLEN: Well, I can tell you, I have interviewed former Communist apparatchiks in Eastern Europe who were certainly not believing Catholics, but will tell you John Paul II had a massive impact on their lives principally putting them out of work because of his role in inspiring the solidarity movement in Poland and sort of setting the dominoes in motion that led to the collapse of communism.

Or one could think about the people's power movement in the Philippines that brought down the Marcos regime, which was largely led by the Catholic Church and sustained by the Vatican. I mean, the point is, whether you're Catholic or not, inevitably, the papacy matters.

And reaction to the papacy illustrates that. I mean, you know, whenever there is a transition in this job, the whole world weighs in on which way the Catholic Church ought to go.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. And as I said, has a direct influence on the daily lives of so many people. And here's the thing. This is, as we know, not an election cycle, but could the abdication, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, set in motion a trend? Could we see down the road another such resignation rather than waiting for the death of a pope?

ALLEN: Well, the official line from the Vatican, of course, is that this does not set a precedent because the pope is the supreme authority in the church. In effect no one can tell him what to do. So when there is a new pope it will be his free decision as to whether to step down or not.

But obviously, you know, once you break seven centuries of tradition and you make a voluntary decision to step down, it makes it significantly easier for the next guy to consider that possibility and, in addition, Christiane, we all know what's going to happen in the media. When we see the next pope beginning to age and become more frail, a drumbeat will begin of when is this guy going to step aside?

AMANPOUR: So interesting.

Back to you, Zoraida and John. And, of course, we'll be here when the pope leaves the Vatican and, indeed, when his papacy officially ends at 2:00 pm Eastern.

BERMAN: It is truly a day like none of us have ever seen, one worth watching very, very closely, Christiane. Our thanks to you.

Here's a quick look step by step at Pope Benedict XVI's historic, unprecedented final day as Holy Father.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN (voice-over): At 5:00 am Eastern, the pope meets with cardinals who are already in Rome; many of them are. He is expected to greet each cardinal and make a few brief comments to each but nothing prepared.

At 10:45 Eastern, the pope departs the courtyard of San Dimasso for the heliport. At 11:15 his chopper will take off. Then a short trip, 15 minutes later, he will land at Castel Gandolfo, his temporary retirement home, a place that has been the summer retreat for popes for close to 400 years.

He will greet the crowd from his window at 11:30 am Eastern time. And these will be his last words spoken as pope in public.

Then at around 2 o'clock Eastern time, which is 8:00 pm there in Italy, the pope will no longer be pope. The Swiss guards will leave their posts. The doors of the palazzo will close. And this chapter in history will be over.

SAMBOLIN: Really incredible. And many of the faithful are on hand in Vatican City for the final hours of Pope Benedict XVI's reign.

Jim Bittermann is live in St. Peter's Square. So what is the atmosphere like there right now?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zoraida, I think -- I have to be honest. I think it's quite like any normal tourist day here at St. Peter's, simply because the Vatican is doing nothing to encourage the crowds to come out today. In fact, they're doing things to discourage them.

The television screens here in the square are still covered up. It's unlikely that anybody is going to be able to watch the last few moments as the pope is speaking with the cardinals.

And secondly, they're taking down the crowd control barriers that were put up yesterday when there were tons of thousands of people out here. So this is really not a very public day. We're going to see the pope, of course, because Vatican TV is going to be broadcasting.

But in fact, those moments when we see the pope are going to be behind closed doors when he's meeting with the cardinals and when he's on his way to Castel Gandolfo. SAMBOLIN: I expect that there are a lot of disappointed people.

BITTERMANN: Well, I'm not sure. You know, I don't think that a lot of people have come to this event. You know, Zoraida, quite honestly, this is different than a normal papal transition. In a normal papal transition, you have tens and hundreds of thousands of people coming to mourn a dead pope. This time around there is no dead pope to mourn.

And I think even the public occasions that we've seen have been somewhat constructed around this very particular kind of event; whereas the last time I covered a papal transition eight years ago, in fact there were hundreds of thousands of people who came on pilgrimages here, people expressly came just to see the dead pope and then the act of mourning.

So it's quite a different atmosphere than, I think, in the previous case.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, Jim Bittermann, live in St. Peter's Square, thank you.

BERMAN: The public will be able to get a brief glimpse of the pope later today near his new temporary home, the picturesque Castel Gandolfo. It is located 15 miles southeast of Rome. The small fortress castle has been a retreat for popes for centuries.

Our own Becky Anderson is there.

And, Becky, the pope will arrive by helicopter later today. He will remain there for about two months. Explain to us the very rich history of this location.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST: Yes, final preparations being made here at Castel Gandolfo for what is a very honored guest later on this afternoon.

Expect bells, expect processional torches as Benedict XVI, His Holiness as he will be called from now on in, arrives here in this little town. It is a spectacular setting here over Lake Albano, a perfect place for -- to start off a life of sort of quiet contemplation.

And it's been the summer residence for popes, a succession of popes for some 400 years to get out of the heat of the Roman summer.

And inside the Castel, beautiful ornamental gardens, a small farm which services the Vatican, 135 acres, and some beautiful, beautiful rooms where Pope Benedict will spend the next two months while a residence for him at the Vatican is being redecorated.

It is a really exciting day here for the people of the diocese. Some 7,000 expected here to see Benedict XVI at the window just over my shoulder here at 5:30 local time. He'll be arriving by helicopter at 5:15. It will be a brief salute and possibly the last words we'll ever hear from the pope. And then, at 8 o'clock local time, the door behind me will slam shut and the Swiss Guard, the papal body guards for centuries, will abandon their position and Benedict XVI will start his new life. John?

BERMAN: All right, Becky Anderson, live this morning at Castel Gandolfo, bracing for history that will take place just a few hours from now. Our thanks to Becky.

SAMBOLIN: And for more reaction from Catholic around the world let's go to CNN's Charles Hodson from Westminster Cathedral in London, 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.

How are folks reacting there?

CHARLES HODSON, CNN HOST: Well, I think the people here and at Roman Catholic places of worship all the way around the world will be praying not only for Benedict XVI as he requested of his audience yesterday, but also I think for those who will be electing his successor and perhaps what could be a new era for the Roman Catholic church.

It's really unclear at this point as to -- it's clearly a punctuation mark. But is it a period, the end of a paragraph or is it the end of a new chapter? I think this is all very hard to see. And I think that Roman Catholics will be praying for guidance for their church; they'll be praying, I think, very much for the right person to be found at this particular point.

In terms of Pope Benedict XVI, I think mixed feelings. It's clearly a pontificate which has been tinged with scandal, with abuse, most recently with the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the senior Roman Catholic churchman here in the United Kingdom.

But on the other hand, I think people will look back at Benedict XVI as being a great theologian, a man of great spirituality and somebody who continued on the tradition of his predecessor, John Paul II, who will probably be regarded as one of the greatest of modern popes. Back to you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We know that this particular pope was a scholar and a lot of people are questioning whether or not there will be a more progressive pope coming -- going forward.

So have you heard any talk about that?

HODSON: Well, I think that clearly being scholarly is important, being pastoral possibly rather more important. Benedict XVI had a pastoral heart but it wasn't always on display.

In terms of whether we'll have a big reformer, I would personally as an observer of church affairs, be quite cautious on that. I think we'll have to -- really have to wait and see what the cardinals decide. Back to you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Charles Hodson, thank you very much. We really appreciate it. BERMAN: And just ahead, we're going to Monsignor Rick Hilgartner with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops about the pope's last day and the process of electing a successor.

SAMBOLIN: And, coming up at 10:00 am Eastern time, a CNN special on the pope's last day, anchored by Erin Burnett and Chris Cuomo in New York and Christiane Amanpour in Rome. It will be simulcast on CNNi.

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BERMAN: In just moments, the spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will begin meeting with the cardinals who must choose his successor. History truly unfolding at the Vatican as we speak, as Pope Benedict XVI prepares to step down, leaving the throne of St. Peter vacant.

Good morning, everyone, thanks for joining us for CNN's special live coverage of the pope's last day. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We'd also like to welcome our viewers from around the world on CNN International.

So in just over nine hours, Pope Benedict XVI's eight-year run comes to an end and the 85-year-old pontiff begins a new chapter in life. It's called retirement. It is unprecedented. But before Pope Benedict XVI departs, he has some unfinished business this morning.

At 5:00 am Eastern, just about 15 minutes from now, the pope meets with dozens of cardinals who have made their way to Rome to pick his replacement. Over 100 of them are expected to be on hand. And the pontiff will spend a minute or two with each and every one of them.

Then Cardinal Angelo Sodano is scheduled to deliver a brief speech. He is the dean of the College of Cardinals.

And finally, Pope Benedict is expected to make a few final spontaneous remarks before later this morning leaving the papal residence one last time. He will depart around 10:45 Eastern.

We are, as we said, witnessing history. No one alive has ever seen a sitting pope step down. And there were a lot of questions anyway about the future of the Catholic Church with the sex scandals erupting, financial issues. CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is live from Rome this morning where it's all happening.

Good morning, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Good morning to you, John and Zoraida.

Indeed, we are waiting here for this meeting. It's going to be personal, really. There are no policy pronouncements by the pope anymore. He made his big public speech yesterday and today he's going to be spending, as you say, a little bit of time with each of the cardinals who are here right now. They're not all here. The 115 who will, when the conclave convenes, elect the next pope are not all here and will not all be at that meeting today.

However, many of those who are -- and we are in a busy location right now -- many of those who are will and have been elevated to their cardinal position by this pope, Benedict XVI. So we're waiting for that. He'll have a little bit of time with each and every one of them. So that's bound to take some period of time.

And then, of course, the next event of the day is the farewell, really, the physical view of him leaving not just the papacy but the seat of the power of the pontiff. And that is St. Peter's Square; that is the Vatican. He'll be going to Castel Gandolfo at 5:00 pm local and then about three hours after that, officially his papacy ends and the next procedure starts to elect the next pope. John?

BERMAN: Christiane, wondering if you can describe the feeling for us today inside Rome. Is it still more of this feeling of a departure, of a valediction? Or are we finally moving on to anticipation as to what happens next?

AMANPOUR: Well, it is still a departure and the papers, of course, are full of yesterday's pictures. Today's daily papers, all the pictures that emerged this morning, are the pictures of the pope with his arms outstretched, having made that final farewell, having talked about the joys that he had in his eight years of being pope, and also the challenges.

He talked about times that were, quote, "far from easy." He talked about the ship of the papacy having been buffeted on choppy, stormy waters. But he also said yesterday that he knew that God would not allow the Roman Catholic Church to sink. And I think that's important because he is the faith leader of the biggest flock in the world. That's 1.2 billion people.

And what the pope says and does and how he conducts himself and how he conducts the Vatican and the papacy affects not just the world's Roman Catholics, but so many others around the world.

What he says touches Muslims, it touches Jews, it touches people even in the laity. So it is a vital position in this world. He is a quasi-statesman. People from all over the world, top world leaders come here to have his benediction or to seek his advice, or at least have a photo op with him. It's an important, important position.

And I would say that, despite all the challenges, by a majority American Catholic and Catholics around the world approve of the job this pope has done, approve of Benedict XVI. Many would like to see a slightly different direction in some aspects going forward, but many are still really rooted and anchored in the traditions of their Roman Catholic faith. John and Zoraida, back to you.

SAMBOLIN: Christiane, is there a lot of talk about who will be selected next? Have there been any names that have been standouts while you've been there? AMANPOUR: Well, yes, there are. I mean, this is, you know, a very human moment now. One pope is leaving. And remember, we keep saying it, but it's important to remember, this is -- he's had several weeks now; he's announced he's stepping down. So clearly this idea of selecting the next pope is foremost in many --

(BREAK)

AMANPOUR: -- as not quite done to talk about the next papacy while this pope is still sitting on the throne of St. Peter's.

However, people are really interested in who will be the next pope. And names have come to the fore. There are American cardinals here. And people have talked a lot about whether this would be a first opportunity to have an American pope.

Well, I don't think that's going to happen. All the people who I've talked to have said it's not really time. And I even spoke to a very senior American cardinal, Archbishop Emeritus McCarrick, formerly of the Washington archdiocese, formerly leading that archdiocese. And he said not yet time for an American pope, although there are, I think, 11 American electors in this conclave.

Then people are talking about popes from Brazil, popes from Argentina, certainly cardinals who are up on the sweepstakes here from Italy. So there are several names that have been put about.

Again, will there be a pope out of Europe? Will there be a pope from the developing world, Africa or Asia? Probably unlikely, although that is where the church is growing the fastest right now. So many names out there. We still really don't know. There really isn't a clear front-runner.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I know in 2005 we were talking about having a black pope or having a Latino pope. And at the end of the day, I guess we will wait and we will see. Christiane Amanpour, we really appreciate it. We'll check in with you again.

Fifty-one minutes past the hour; so let's walk you through step by step Pope Benedict's historic unprecedented final day as Holy Father.

In just a few minutes the pope meets with cardinals who are already in Rome. He's expected to greet each cardinal and make a few brief comments, but nothing prepared. At 10:45 Eastern the pope departs the courtyard of San Damasco for the heliport.

At 11:16 his chopper will take off. Fifteen minutes later he will land at Castel Gandolfo, his temporary retirement home. It is a place that has been the summer retreat for popes for close to 400 years.

He'll greet the crowd there from his window at 11:30 Eastern time. These will be his last words spoken as pope in a public setting. And then at 2 o'clock Eastern, 8:00 pm local time, the pope will no longer be pope. Swiss guards will abandon their posts. The doors of the palazzo will close. And a chapter in history, John, will be over. BERMAN: So here once again to walk us through today and the coming events is Monsignor Rick Hilgartner. He's the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Secretary of Divine Worship.

So, Monsignor, walk us through what we're going to see today, because as we just keep on saying, it is unprecedented. In just a few minutes, the pope will meet all the cardinals who are in Rome. They will get a private audience of about one to two minutes. We will see them meet with him one by one. Describe that to me.

MSGR. RICK HILGARTNER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: I think that will be really personal and rather intimate in terms of their friendship with Pope Benedict. He has named and appointed more than half of them as cardinals; 67 of the current 117 cardinals eligible to vote were appointed by Pope Benedict as cardinals.

And of the 50 who were appointed prior, many of them were his collaborators and fellow workers with him when he himself was a cardinal. So this will be his real farewell to close friends. And because we expect that Pope Benedict will really move into a reclusive kind of private role, this may be the last time that the cardinals themselves see him.

BERMAN: It is one of the first times this week that we will be seeing all the cardinals together. Does that mean this is the beginning of the politicking?

HILGARTNER: Probably. I think today will be more focused on Pope Benedict. And one of the things that we really don't know is how people are going to respond. I don't think the cardinals themselves know how they'll respond emotionally and personally, because this is such an unprecedented moment, as we keep saying.

So we really don't know what the mood will really be like. Yesterday there was a real sense of appreciation and jubilation that was a little bit reserved, in part because that's what Pope Benedict brings forth, but in part because there is just this kind of uneasiness about the church treading into unchartered waters.

BERMAN: What do we do? No one knows how to behave.

HILGARTNER: Exactly. So the cardinals are, for the large part, already in Rome. They're not officially summoned yet.

Only tomorrow will there be the official announcement, the protocol piece, that official step of calling the cardinals, summoning them into conclave. And so in the next couple of days we'll see what they call the general congregations begin when they start their regular meetings that will lead up ultimately to the conclave itself.

BERMAN: One of the most interesting things I find about what's going on in St. Peter's or in the Vatican City right now, is there are two groups of cardinals; there are the cardinal electors who will be allowed to participate in the conclave, some 115 cardinals. But then there are the older cardinals, the more senior cardinals, who will also be there to say goodbye. And they are part of this process until the conclave itself begins. In some ways, this is their time. They need to use this time to do whatever influencing they can do.

HILGARTNER: Absolutely. And some of them would be keenly aware -- well, they all would be keenly aware of it. Some of them will be poised to give their input, give their influence. And over the coming days when the general congregations meet, that's when all the cardinals have an opportunity to give input about what they think the issues facing the church are.

They'll be looking at the state of the church and the various parts of the world. And that's the only moment that the cardinals over 80, many of whom are still very, very active, will have a chance to give input and participate.

BERMAN: I want to shift the focus from what's happening in Rome right now to here in the United States. As American Catholics watch what's going on there, what should they look for?

HILGARTNER: Well, you know, the piece, you know, looking at the footage today, they'll be able to spot the American cardinals. There are 11 American cardinals who are electors, who are eligible to vote and a number of other cardinals from the United States who are likely to be present.

So as we start to see footage, I think people will be looking for the faces that they recognize. And I think the bigger picture, as we look at what's coming in the conclave, we have a tendency to only understand our own limited perspective. And it would be easy to have that American lens and say these are the issues facing the church.

But the church in other parts of the world, in South America, the church in Africa, the church in parts of Asia, face a very different perspective. And I think what we'll see over the coming days is really a chance to kind of expand our own vision as American Catholics to say here's what it's like to be a Catholic in another part of the world, where the issues are very different.

BERMAN: Do you think the focus, though, there is on those issues that are of concern to Americans?

HILGARTNER: Some of them are. I think certainly the abuse crisis that's faced the church over the last at least decade, though it really stretches back decades, is something that the church in other parts of the world are starting to realize, that it's not something that's been limited to the United States.

But we talk about issues of things like religious liberty in the United States with a very specific kind of focus right now, the way the American bishops are in dialogue and in conversation with the administration of the United States.

When you look at a question like religious liberty in another part of the world, it really has to do with can a person even identify themselves as a Christian or a Catholic and can they attend church without risking their life?

BERMAN: Monsignor, thank you for being with us this morning to walk us through this historic day that none of us have ever seen, none of us have ever been through. We will join you again shortly.

Zoraida?

SAMBOLIN: As for where the pope emeritus will live once he retires, for the next two months, Benedict will be staying at Castel Gandolfo. That's about 15 miles southeast of Rome. It is a hilltop town with a small fortress castle that has been a retreat for popes for several centuries now.

A monastery in the Vatican Garden is being renovated as a permanent home for him. It's an 8,600 square-foot, established it as a convent by Pope John Paul II. That was back in 1994. Renovations have been in the works since November and are expected to be completed in the spring. Pope Benedict XVI will have familiar company. His longtime housekeepers will join him.

Our special edition of EARLY START," The Pope's Last Day" continues right now.

BERMAN: Our special coverage continues right here on CNN.

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BERMAN: History in the making. Pope Benedict XVI about to carry out the last charge of his papacy, meeting one by one with the cardinals who will choose his successor and he might be face-to-face with the next pope in just a few minutes on this last day on the throne of St. Peter.

Good morning. Welcome to this special edition of EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Nice to have you with us.

We'd also like to welcome our viewers from around the world on CNN International. It is the top of the hour, Thursday, February 28th. And we are witnessing history in the making. No one alive has ever seen a sitting pope step down.

BERMAN: It is all unfolding right now, and by 2:00 pm Eastern, Pope Benedict XVI becomes pope emeritus. But there is still a lot to do before then, the pope meeting at this hour with the cardinals who will ultimately choose his replacement. Over 100 of them plan to be on hand. And the pontiff plans to spend a private minute or two with each and every one of them.

SAMBOLIN: Then Cardinal Angelo Sodano is scheduled to deliver a brief speech. He is the dean of the College of Cardinals.