VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI (search) on Sunday made the first appearance of his papacy at the window of his apartment, telling tens of thousands of faithful and curious he was keeping up the cherished tradition of his beloved predecessor, John Paul II, who had last appeared to crowds in St. Peter's Square in silent suffering.
With some 50,000 people gathered in the square below, Benedict stood at the window of the papal apartment, which he moved into on Saturday, blessed the crowd, wished Orthodox Christians a happy Easter and said he hoped efforts toward Christian (search) unity would continue.
He also denounced wars across the globe and paid tribute to the world's workers.
May 1 (search) is labor day in many countries, and many in the crowd had come to Rome to participate in a huge rally and concert scheduled for Sunday evening. The turnout in St. Peter's Square was one of the largest for the customary Sunday noon window appearance.
"I address you, my very dear brothers and sisters, for the first time from this window that the beloved figure of my predecessor made familiar to countless people in the entire world," Benedict said from the third-floor window of the apostolic palace.
"From Sunday to Sunday, John Paul II, faithful to an appointment which became a cherished habit, accompanied for more than a quarter-century the history of the Church and of the world, and we continue to feel him closer to us than ever," said Benedict, interrupted often by cheers.
John Paul died on April 2, three days after his last time at the window, when he made a silent appearance and raised his hand in blessing. German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (search), one of John Paul's closest aides, was elected pontiff on April 19.
In the 15-minute appearance, Benedict, wearing a white cassock, issued a call for continued efforts to bridge the gap between Catholics and Orthodox (search).
Wishing "from the heart" a happy Easter to Orthodox Christians, Benedict said that God "is asking us to travel decisively down the path toward full unity."
John Paul had made better relations with the Orthodox a main goal of his 26-year-long papacy.
Like John Paul, Benedict used the window appearance to talk about current problems on the world scene.
After expressing his dismay over "wars, poverty and diseases" in the world, Benedict singled out the African nation of Togo, wracked by deadly violence after contested elections. He expressed closeness to Togo's people, "disturbed by painful internal struggle," and said he was praying for "harmony and peace."
After greeting pilgrims in Italian and Spanish, Benedict raised his arms in greeting several times and offered his blessing.
An Italian in the crowd, Sabina Domenici, said that her German and Austrian friends who were in the square were "disappointed that he didn't speak in German, but right now he knows he needs to conquer the hearts of Romans."
John Paul knew how to delight a crowd and often joked with the faithful during the window appearances.
Benedict did add a few lines that weren't in his prepared text, including joking that he, too, is named Joseph, in a reference to St. Joseph, the church's patron saint of workers.