.- The Holy Father celebrated the fifth anniversary of his pontificate on Monday, just after returning to Rome from a busy weekend trip to the Mediterranean island of Malta. The College of Cardinals organized a lunch with the Pope as the guest of honor to mark the occasion, while the Italian Church called for a day of prayer for him.
After a taxing Saturday and Sunday, during which he called for the people of Malta to protect their identity founded on the faith and values they received from St. Paul, Benedict XVI returned to Rome on Sunday evening. The Sunday return enabled him to spend the fifth anniversary of his pontificate at home.
The Holy Father was chosen by the College of Cardinals to succeed John Paul II on April 19, 2005, the second day of the Papal Conclave.
Monday's lunch in the Pope's honor took place in the Ducal Hall of the Apostolic Palace and was attended by 46 cardinals. Vatican Radio reported that Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano commemorated the five-year milestone with a short address in which he thanked the Holy Father for his service to the Church and the world, carried out with "great generosity."
He voiced the support of the College of Cardinals for the Bishop of Rome and underscored that "the light of Christian hope, with the certainty that the grace of the Lord continues to work among us," sustains the Church amidst "the challenges of the modern world."
Pope Benedict XVI also took the floor, saying that he feels fortunate to not be alone, having the entire College to share in the trials and consolations with him, L'Osservatore Romano reported.
He thanked the cardinals for their daily assistance, especially amidst persecutions in the Church's pilgrimage toward Heaven, noting that God continues to give consolation to the wounded Church in spite of its sins.
The Holy Father said that there are two principles in the Church, one being personal and the other being communal. He referred to the College of Cardinals as his synod, helping, accompanying and joining him in his work, which is his personal responsibility, unable to be delegated.
He thanked God for the cardinal's support and prayed for the continued strength to move ahead.
No official audiences with the Pope took place today and no other plans were made public. The election of Pope Benedict XVI was observed as a local holiday in the Vatican.