New pope takes up familiar spot in Vatican window

Monday, May 2, 2005

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI, embracing a cherished habit of his predecessor, appeared at his apartment's window on St. Peter's Square Sunday for the first time in his papacy to bless tens of thousands of faithful and curious.

Looking vigorous and confident, Benedict cut a figure sharply contrasting with John Paul's last time at the studio window on March 30, when the ailing pontiff appeared in silent suffering three days before his death.

The new pope, wearing a white cassock, sang a Latin prayer in a voice so strong it boomed across the square from the third-floor window of the Apostolic Palace.

Some 50,000 pilgrims, tourists and Romans flocked to the square on a hot, sunny day, far more than the few thousand or so who turn out for most of these Sunday appearances.

But with many curious about Benedict's style as pontiff after 26 years of a charismatic John Paul, Sunday's appointment was special, as the new pope quickly noted.

"I address you, my very dear brothers and sisters, for the first time from this window that the beloved figure of my predecessor made familiar to countless people in the entire world," Benedict said.

Benedict moved into the apartment on Saturday. He had been residing in a Vatican City hotel since his election on April 19 while the apartment was cleaned and spruced up for its new resident.

"From Sunday to Sunday, John Paul II, faithful to an appointment which became a cherished habit, accompanied for more than a quarter-century the history of the church and of the world, and we continue to feel him closer to us than ever," said Benedict.

Cheers from the crowd frequently punctuated his remarks about John Paul and Benedict pointed heavenward at one moment when speaking of his predecessor.

Benedict thanked "all those who supported me in these days with prayer and all those who from every part of the world sent me messages and wishes."

German, Hungarian, Mexican and Polish flags were among the banners waving in the crowd.

John Paul's brief March 30 appearance at the window was the last time the public saw him. Ravaged by Parkinson's disease, the 84-year-old pope died in the apartment on April 2 while faithful in the square prayed for him.

Benedict, formerly German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had a reputation as a tough enforcer of church teaching when he was John Paul's trusted head of doctrinal orthodoxy.

But he offered a relaxed image of himself in the 15 minutes that he stood at the window.

Many in the crowd were workers' groups planning to join a rally later in Rome for the May 1 Labor Day holiday, and Benedict ad-libbed that his name was Joseph, a reference to the Church's patron of workers, St. Joseph.

Turning serious, he said he hoped that people, especially the young would always be able to find work and that "working conditions are ever more respectful" of human dignity.

Benedict offered Easter wishes to Orthodox Christians, who were celebrating the day, and indicated anew he will pursue John Paul's goal of bridging the distance between Roman Catholics and Orthodox.

Benedict said God is "asking us to travel decisively down the path toward full unity."

Like John Paul, Benedict used the window appearance to talk about problems on the world scene.

After expressing dismay over "wars, poverty and diseases" in the world, Benedict singled out the African nation of Togo, wracked by deadly violence after disputed elections. He said he was praying for harmony and peace for Togo's people.

After greeting pilgrims in Italian and Spanish, Benedict offered his blessing.

Italian Sabina Domenici listened to the pope with some German and Austrian friends. They were "disappointed that he didn't speak in German, but right now he knows he needs to conquer the hearts of Romans," Domenici said.

Many in the crowd were tourists, like Belgian Carine De Backer, who said "when you're in Rome you have to see St. Peter's and the pope."

"I'm not really for this pope. He's too conservative," said De Backer. "We hope there is another side to him."

Associated Press Writer Daniela Petroff contributed to this report.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: