VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI marked his first year as pontiff yesterday by asking for prayers to carry on as God's ''gentle and firm" pastor -- an appeal underscoring his efforts to unify the faithful while keeping to core church teaching.
A visibly moved Benedict told an estimated 50,000 people gathered for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square that his election had come as a ''complete surprise" and that he couldn't do the job without their support.
''Thank you from the heart to all those who in various ways are near me or follow me spiritually with affection and prayers from afar," Benedict said to applause. ''To each one of you, I ask you to continue to support me by praying to God to let me be his gentle and firm pastor of his church."
The comments were in many ways classic Benedict: humble yet clear in showing his priorities. That combination, as well as some surprising choices in his first year as pope, has confounded Roman Catholics on the right and left.
Benedict was the oldest pope elected in 275 years and the first German one in nearly 1,000 years when he was chosen, at age 78, to succeed John Paul II on April 19, 2005.
As John Paul's right-hand man, he had been a favorite going into the vote and was selected in the briefest conclave in a century: About 24 hours after voting began, white smoke curled from the Sistine Chapel chimney to announce a pope had been found.