Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday took part in his last Angelus prayer, telling the approximately 200,000 of the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square that he planned to focus even more on prayer and meditation after stepping down as leader of the Roman Catholic Church later this week.

"The Lord has called me to 'scale the mountain,' to dedicate myself still more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church. If God asks me this it is precisely so that I might continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love with which I have tried to give up to now, but in a way more suitable to my age and my strength," the pope said.

The huge throng of the faithful, pilgrims and tourists filled St. Peter's Square and spilled into nearby streets.

The crowd interrupted the pontiff several times with applause.

"Let us call upon the intercession of the Virgin Mary: May she help all of us to always follow the Lord Jesus, in prayer and in works of charity," Benedict XVI said.

The pope, who turns 86 in two months, announced on Feb. 11 that he planned to step down from the papacy on the last day of this month, becoming the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

The papal conclave to elect the successor to Pope Benedict XVI is expected to start in the next few weeks.

Under the Holy See's constitution, the conclave should begin between 15 and 20 days after the papacy becomes vacant to give time for all of the cardinals to arrive in Rome.

The pope will travel on Thursday to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Rome, and will stay there until restoration work has been completed on a monastery within the Vatican that will serve as his retirement home, the Vatican Press Office said earlier this month. EFE