VATICAN CITY Apr 26, 2005 — Pope Benedict XVI is showing his humorous side and that he knows how to work a crowd, traits the public rarely saw during his quarter-century as the stern German guardian of the church's conservative doctrine.
|Pope Benedict XVI Photo|
In the first glimpse of what went on inside his mind during last week's conclave, Benedict said Monday he prayed to be passed over as pontiff because there were younger candidates and that when it become clear he would be elected it felt like "the guillotine."
He kissed babies and chuckled as he held an audience with German pilgrims tens of thousands had flocked to his installation a day earlier and gave a homily at a Rome basilica, St. Paul Outside the Walls. To his compatriots, he first apologized for being late, saying a meeting with religious leaders had run over time.
"The Germans are used to punctuality," he joked. "I'm already very Italian."
Thousands later packed the evening service, where the pope held a biblical reading from the apostle Paul to the Romans to show his connection to the city of Rome, where he is bishop.
Anja Tartarini, a 31-year-old actress who lined up early, suggested the new pope is winning fans despite the inevitable comparisons to John Paul II, his predecessor who died April 2.
"He's sweet and nice and strong. He has a different kind of charisma from John Paul," she said . "He says he feels inadequate like a child, but with unbelievable humility he accepted this task."
Benedict was elected the first German pope in centuries on April 19 after four rounds of voting in 24 hours, one of the fastest conclaves in 100 years. While he had been a leading candidate, 78 is considered old to be elected pope.
"As the trend in the ballots slowly made me realize that, in a manner of speaking, the guillotine would fall on me, I started to feel quite dizzy," Benedict said in his native German at the audience, smiling and chuckling. "I thought that I had done my life's work and could now hope to live out my days in peace.