VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the first general audience of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI sat in the full force of the spring sun, expressing again his "awe and gratitude" that God chose him to lead the Catholic Church.
God, he said, "surprised me first of all."
Although leading more than 1 billion Catholics is a huge task, the knowledge that he will have the help of God and of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the spiritual support of the faithful "gives me serenity and joy," he said.
Pope Benedict began the audience by touring St. Peter's Square in an open popemobile for about 10 minutes. He stood the entire time, waving and blessing the crowd.
He told the estimated 15,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square that in the coming weeks he would continue the series of audience talks Pope John Paul II had begun on the psalms and canticles used in the Church's morning and evening prayers.
But first, he said, he wanted to share with the public his reasons for choosing the name Benedict when he was elected pope April 19.
"I wanted to call myself Benedict XVI to bind myself to the venerated Pope Benedict XV, who guided the Church in a troubled period because of the First World War. He was a courageous and authentic prophet of peace and worked with valiant courage first to prevent the drama of war and then to limit its nefarious consequences," he said.
"In his footsteps, I want to place my ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony among individuals and peoples, deeply convinced that the great good of peace is, first of all, a gift of God, a fragile and precious gift to invoke, safeguard and build day after day with the help of everyone," Pope Benedict said.
The second reason for choosing the name, he said, was to evoke the spirit of St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism.
In his prepared text, the pope had noted that St. Benedict is a co-patron of Europe along with Sts. Cyril and Methodius. In his Italian-language talk, he went off script to pay homage to Sts. Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein, who also are invoked as patrons of Europe and Italy.
Pope Benedict said the expansion of Benedictine monasticism had "an enormous influence on the spread of Christianity over the whole continent."
"St. Benedict is very venerated in Germany, particularly in Bavaria, my homeland; he is a basic point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the undeniable Christian roots of its culture and civilization," he said.
Pope Benedict asked the saint "to help us keep Christ firmly at the center of our existence. May he always have first place in our thoughts and in all our activities."
The new pope, ably keeping to the general audience tradition, gave his main talk in Italian, then read summaries and greetings in French, English, German and Spanish.
To the delight of an estimated 2,000 Polish pilgrims, he also read greetings in Polish, thanking the pilgrims for "your goodness and your prayers."
He did not, however, read the greetings prepared for him in Croatian and Slovenian.
At the end of the audience, Pope Benedict led the crowd in singing the Lord's Prayer, which got off to a rocky start with some prelates singing in Italian and the pope singing more strongly in Latin. He waved his arms like an orchestra conductor, getting everyone singing the same language and in unison.
Before getting into the popemobile for another, briefer ride through the crowd, he personally greeted dozens of cardinals and bishops present for the gathering. He also personally thanked the officials from the Secretariat of State who introduce groups according to the language they speak.
When the English-speaking pilgrims were introduced, there was a long pause to allow the choir from Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, to sing a tribute to the new pope.
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