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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 April, 2005, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Pope Benedict woos media
By Peter Gould
BBC News, Vatican City

Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI thanked the media for their long hours of work
It was hardly an intimate gathering, but I got my audience with Pope Benedict.

The world's media have been swarming all over the Vatican since the death of John Paul II.

Over the past month, we have seen some extraordinary sights in and around St Peter's Square.

We witnessed the vigils for the dying pope, and marvelled at the millions who came to say farewell.

There was the solemn splendour of a papal funeral, and the excitement of the white smoke that greeted the election of his successor.

Today, Benedict XVI called us in, 4,000 of us, to thank us for our journalistic efforts.

Lucky tourists

The tension of the past weeks seemed to have evaporated. No more police cordons and arguments about passes and access. Even the usually stern Swiss Guards were smiling.

We were ushered into a vast audience hall used by popes to greet pilgrims. Even with so many journalists present, the hall was only half full.

The Vatican quietly allowed in groups of startled tourists, to fill up some of the vacant seats behind us.
Lucky tourists allowed into the pope's media event
Lucky tourists allowed in the media event cheered enthusiastically

They couldn't believe their luck. They were expecting a stroll around St Peter's Square in the sunshine. Instead they got to see the Pope.

"Fortuna, fortuna," said one couple from Sicily, in disbelief: "We were so lucky!"

It was a smart move by the Vatican. Pilgrims, being less cynical than hardened journalists, could be relied on to cheer and clap in the right places.

In fact, the papal minders need not have worried. The journalists were neatly attired for the occasion, with male correspondents wearing suits and ties.

And when the pope walked in, everyone stood and applauded, in many cases with real enthusiasm.

Having been shown due respect, Benedict XVI seemed prepared to forgive us for all those reports saying how many Catholics were alarmed by his election.

'Thanks for the coverage'

Sitting on a papal throne that looked too big for his small frame, the pope pulled out his gold-rimmed reading glasses and proceeded to address us in Italian, English, French and German.

"Thanks to all of you, these historically important events have had worldwide coverage," he said.

"I know how hard you have worked, far away from your homes and families, for long hours and in sometimes difficult conditions."

The international media made a mental note to pass on the Pope's words to their editors.

I noticed that the pontiff was wearing the red leather slippers that I had seen a few days earlier in the window of the papal tailors.

At the end of the audience, which lasted about 15 minutes, Benedict XVI rose to give us his blessing.
Media taking camera phone pictures
The pope came in and the camera phones came out

Then with a friendly wave and the words "Grazie, arrivederci!" he left the stage.

This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a press conference. There was no opportunity for the media to ask any questions, polite or otherwise.

Some journalists were disappointed that the Pope's remarks contained nothing of substance to give us a clue about the direction his papacy will take.

Controlled papacy

The style was also a little different from the audience for the press given by John Paul II, back in 1978.

Then, in a media melee, the new pope shook hands with reporters, and responded to their shouted questions.

Today's proceedings were more dignified and everything was firmly under control. In fact, some people believe control may be the watchword for this papacy.

However, the way some British newspapers have reported the background of the Pope - including his enforced membership of the Hitler Youth - has irritated the media in Germany.

"It is so silly, but they do the same at every football match," said one German TV journalist.

"They use the language of the war when we should be looking forward, not bringing up the past."

Following the media profiles, the new Pope has surprised many people with his engaging manner, which is rather at odds with his image as a hard-line conservative.

On Sunday, at his inaugural mass, he has the opportunity to win more hearts and minds.

Watch Pope Benedict XVI hold an audience with the media

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