VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The thought of being elected the leader of the universal church made him lightheaded and doubtful, said Pope Benedict XVI.
During the "slow unfolding of the voting process" at the conclave, it eventually became evident that "the guillotine was coming closer and was meant for me," he said in an April 25 audience with pilgrims from his native Germany.
The thought of becoming the next pope "made my head spin," he said.
"I had thought that up until now my life's work was done and that the years ahead of me would be more restful," said the pope.
But a fellow cardinal-elector had given the future pope a letter reminding him of a phrase he had used during his homily at the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II: "If the Lord calls you, you must obey," said Pope Benedict.
Some 3,000 pilgrims from all over Germany filed into the Paul VI audience hall to meet with the newly elected German pontiff the day after he was formally installed as pope. An 11 a.m. meeting with ecumenical and other religious leaders ran overtime and made the pope almost 15 minutes late for his appointment with the German pilgrims.
When he arrived, the pope walked the length of the hall, shook hands with pilgrims and blessed two infants along the way. When he took to the stage to begin his address, he asked the enthusiastic audience members to forgive his being late.
"We Germans are usually very punctual, but it looks like I have become Italian," he joked to the delight and applause of his audience.
He explained he was delayed because his meeting with ecumenical leaders "was so cordial" that it lasted longer than expected.
But to the surprise of many, the pope revealed some of the details behind his election in his message to his fellow countrymen.
He said when the voting was showing him to be the clear favorite he prayed to God "to spare me."
He said he told God, "You have candidates who are younger, better, stronger and have more elan than me."
"Evidently God did not listen to me," he said wryly.
But the pope said he gathered strength for accepting the cardinals' decision from the letter given to him by a fellow cardinal-elector. He said the "touching" letter reminded the pope of the theme he chose for the mid-April funeral Mass homily that when one is called by God that call "cannot be rejected."
"So I had no other choice than to say 'yes,'" he said.
Pope Benedict asked his audience to continue to pray for him and have trust in him.
"If I ever make an error or when the pope says something that is not easy to understand, because the pope has to say these things, I ask for your trust from now on," he said.
Pope Benedict said because Pope John Paul was seen as an open and fatherly figure, it created a church that "was not closed up inside itself," and was "open to all."
"The church is not old and immobile, but young," he said.
Pope Benedict said it was "not true that today's young people were only drawn" to a consumerist and materialist lifestyle.
"Young people want what is great and good," he said.
He also said he was looking forward to his August trip to Cologne for World Youth Day.
At the audience, when the pope saw some blue and white Bavarian flags being waved by pilgrims in the Vatican audience hall, he said, "Now I have something to say to the Bavarians."
Even though "I have spent the past 23 and a half years in Rome, I am still Bavarian, even if now I am bishop of Rome," he said.
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