Pope Benedict XVI tells faithful he's well aware of gravity of his resignation in final public address

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives on St. Peter's square for his last weekly audience, Feb. 27, 2013 at the Vatican.

(CBS News) Pope Benedict made a stately arrival for his last general audience as pontiff on Wednesday, making a slow tour through the crowd aboard the Popemobile, pausing to bless babies handed up to him.

CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reports the crowd in St. Peter's Square was approximately 100,00 -- about half of the 200,000 the Vatican predicted and the police prepared for -- and the pope warmly thanked the crowd. He told them he was "fully aware of the seriousness and novelty" of his decision to resign.

Cardinals held places of honor for Benedict's address and appeared moved by the gravity of the occasion.

After a final meeting with the pontiff on Thursday, the 115 cardinals eligible to vote will be looking to select a new pope who can meet the myriad challenges facing the Church, including rehabilitating its image in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal.

The date of the conclave to select his successor is not expected to be announced before Monday, and in his final address, Benedict asked the faithful to pray for the cardinals as they embark on selecting his replacement.

Concerns remain about whether the monastic life Benedict will transition into will keep him from having any influence on the next papacy, but for his part, Benedict reiterated that his decision to resign is in the best interest of the Church, and a choice made after thoughtful prayer. He stressed that he is "not abandoning" the church.