.- Some 15,000 people were present this morning in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Benedict XVI gave the first General Audience of his new pontificate and explained some of the weight behind his use of the name ‘Benedict’. At the outset of the audience, the Holy Father spoke of the "awe and gratitude to God” he is feeling as he begins his ministry as 265th Bishop of Rome.
He told the gathered throngs that God “surprised me more than anyone in calling me to succeed the Apostle Peter,” and noted the “interior trepidation before the greatness of the task and the responsibilities which have been entrusted to me.”
“However,” he said, “I draw serenity and joy from the certainty of God's help, that of His most Holy Mother the Virgin Mary, and of the patron saints. I also feel supported by the spiritual closeness of all the people of God whom, as I repeated last Sunday, I continue to ask to accompany me with persistent prayer."
The Holy Father also shed light on the much-speculated reasoning for his choice of papal names.
“I chose to call myself Benedict XVI”, he said, “ideally as a link to the venerated Pontiff, Benedict XV, who guided the Church through the turbulent times of the First World War. He was a true and courageous prophet of peace who struggled strenuously and bravely, first to avoid the drama of war and then to limit its terrible consequences.”
“In his footsteps I place my ministry, in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples, profoundly convinced that the great good of peace is above all a gift of God, a fragile and precious gift to be invoked, safeguarded and constructed, day after day and with everyone's contribution.”
"The name Benedict”, he continued, “also evokes the extraordinary figure of the great 'patriarch of western monasticism,' St. Benedict of Norcia, co-patron of Europe with Cyril and Methodius.”
He spoke of the “progressive expansion of the Benedictine Order which he founded”, which had an “enormous influence on the spread of Christianity throughout the European continent.”
“For this reason,” the Pope said, “St. Benedict is much venerated in Germany, and especially in Bavaria, my own land of origin; he constitutes a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe and a powerful call to the irrefutable Christian roots of European culture and civilization."
The Holy Father implored St. Benedict’s intercession "to hold firm Christ's central position in our lives. May he always be first in our thoughts and in all our activities!"
Pope Benedict, recalling the reflections on Christian virtues begun by Pope John Paul I, and continued by John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate, announced that in coming weekly audiences he would resume "the comments prepared by John Paul II on the second part of the Psalms and Canticles, which are part of Vespers.”
“From next Wednesday,” he said, “I will begin precisely from where his catechesis was interrupted after the general audience of January 26."
The Holy Father greeted various groups gathered in Croatian, Slovenian and Polish and specially addressed the 1,000 faithful from the archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia, Italy, who had come to Rome accompanied by Archbishop Riccardo Fontana. He also summarized his catechesis, given in Italian, briefly in English, French, Spanish and German.