VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI presided over his final general audience before he becomes the first pontiff in 600 years to step down.

Tens of thousands of people flocked to Saint Peter's Square for one last lesson about the Catholic faith. He also made several rounds through the piazza in a triumphant farewell before he officially retires on Thursday.

The pope thanked the cheering crowds and his colleagues for respecting his decision. He announced earlier this month that at 85 years old, he didn't have the strength of mind or body to carry on.

Vatican officials say cardinals will begin meeting on Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave to elect the next pope.

Vatican officials say that Benedict will be known as 'Emeritus Pope,' or 'Your Holiness.' He became pope in 2005.