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Last Updated: Monday, 25 April, 2005, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Benedict prayed 'not to be Pope'
Bishops queue to shake hands with Pope Benedict XVI during his audience with German pilgrims
The Pope has been holding the first audiences of his papacy
Pope Benedict XVI has revealed at an audience with pilgrims that he prayed to God during conclave to spare him the "destiny" of becoming Pope.

He had thought that at 78 his "life's work was finished and I was expecting quieter years," he said.

"Evidently, this time [God] didn't listen to me."

The Pope also met leaders of other branches of Christianity - including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams - and other faiths, including Islam.

He welcomed the Muslim presence at the first audience of his papacy.

"I express my appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians, both at the local and international level," he said.

Papal joke

At a separate audience for pilgrims from his native Germany, he shed light on his private feelings during conclave as it became clear he was likely to become Pope.

"When the voting slowly developed making it clear that the guillotine was coming closer and pointing at me, I asked God to spare me this destiny," he said.

He recalled saying to God in his prayers: "You have younger, better, more enthusiastic and energetic candidates."

But he also said: "The Lord's road is not comfortable, but we are not made for comfort and so I could not have done anything but say Yes."

The Pope also shared a joke after apologising for arriving late. "The Germans are used to punctuality," he said. "I have become a bit of an Italian."

Pope Benedict XVI was formally installed as Pope in an open-air Mass in St Peter's Square on Sunday.

"I assure you that the Church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole," he said after meeting religious leaders on Monday.

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