Pope at Angelus: Unusual days for me and the church

Pope Benedict greets the crowd before beginning Angelus today. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Benedict greets the crowd before beginning Angelus today. (CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — In his first Angelus address since announcing his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI asked for prayers and mentioned how unusual a period it is for him and for the church, but he did not explicitly talk to pilgrims about his resignation.

Addressing Spanish speakers, he said, “My heartfelt thanks … for your prayers and affection in these days. Continue to pray for me and the next pope.”

And he told Polish speakers, “Thank you for your prayerful support and spiritual closeness in these days that are so unusual for the church and for me.”

According to the Vatican, more than 50,000 people were in St. Peter’s Square for the midday opportunity to pray with the pope and listen to his reflections. Rome’s mayor and members of the city council were there, too.

Before leading the prayer, Pope Benedict commented on the beginning of Lent and today’s Gospel reading about the temptation of Jesus.

He said Lent is a time for Catholics to renew their spiritual lives and turn to God, “renouncing pride and selfishness to live in love.”

Making God the center of one’s life, he said, requires “spiritual battle” because the devil doesn’t want people to be holy.

The Gospel account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, he said, shows just how “subtle” the devil can be: he does not try to trick Jesus directly into evil, but tempts him with “a false good.”

The good news, he said, is that Jesus — through his incarnation, death and resurrection — already had defeated the devil. “Therefore, we are not afraid to take up the battle against evil; what is important is that we do so with him, with Christ, the victor.”

The recitation of the Angelus with the pope on Sundays and feast days is an event requiring no reservations and no tickets. For many Roman families, attending the prayer is a normal part of a Sunday or holiday stroll.

But today was different. In fact, by 10 a.m., officers from a variety of Italian and Rome police forces, paramedics and even garbage collectors had deployed along the broad avenue leading to St. Peter’s Square and along the square’s perimeter.

An hour before the Angelus, thousands of people were already in the square. The young staked out places by sitting on the cold cobblestones. Others previewed their banners for the press: “You are Peter. Stay.” “Thank you, Holy Father. We love you very much.” “Thanks. Wherever you go (we’ll be) always with you.”

Acknowledging English speakers in the crowd, the pope said, “Thank you for the prayers and support you have shown me in these days.”

And he told Italian speakers, “Thank you for coming in such large numbers. This, too, is a sign of the affection and spiritual closeness you’re showing me.”

Pope Benedict asked all the groups for special prayers for him and members of the Roman Curia as they begin their weeklong Lenten retreat this evening.

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