Published: Mar 23, 2012 11:09 AM EDT
Updated: Mar 23, 2012 3:51 PM EDT

ROME (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI on Friday used a cane - apparently for the first time in public - to help him walk up to a plane during an airport ceremony to see him off on a pilgrimage to Mexico and Cuba.
 
Benedict, who turns 85 next month, leaned on a black cane with his right hand as he walked steadily for about 100 meters (yards) to the foot of the Alitalia plane from the helicopter which flew him from the Vatican to Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport Friday morning.
 
Papal aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the pope started using the cane about two months ago in private because it makes him feel more secure, and not for any medical problem.
 
Italian Premier Mario Monti and church officials greeted him at the departure ceremony. Benedict then climbed the steps of the aircraft unaided, stopping at one point to wave, before entering the plane, which began a 13-1/2 hour-flight to Mexico.
 
Benedict returns to Rome on March 29.
 
A few months ago, Benedict started using a wheeled platform to save his energy when navigating the vast length of St. Peter's Basilica. On Wednesday, Benedict didn't hold his usual weekly public audience, Vatican officials said, so he could rest before the trip.