ROME – In his first television interview as pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI (search) recalled predecessor John Paul II (search) as a "moral voice for the whole world" who remained lucid and serene until the end of his life despite great suffering.
Benedict also told Polish state television in the interview broadcast Sunday that he plans to travel to John Paul's homeland in June.
"If God wills it, and if my schedule allows for it, I have every intention of coming to Poland," Benedict said in the interview conducted Sept. 20.
He said he had consulted with Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul's longtime close aide, "and I am told June would be the best time."
The 15-minute interview for the TVP1 channel was conducted in the pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome. However, it was held for broadcast until Sunday to mark the 27th anniversary of John Paul's election as pontiff.
Wearing a white cassock and skullcap and seated on an ornate gilded chair, the German-born Benedict said he still felt guided by the spiritual presence of his predecessor.
In what is believed to be the first formal TV interview by a pope, Benedict said John Paul, during his papacy, became a moral voice for the whole world, regardless of people's religion.
"No one else in the world, on an international level, can speak in the name of Christianity like this and give voice and strength to the Christian reality in the world today," Benedict said.
"He was the spokesman of the great values of humanity for non-Christians and other religions, too."
Benedict said he feels close to his predecessor, thanks to prayer and regular study of John Paul's writings.
"The pope is always close to me through his writings: I hear him and I see him speaking, so I can keep up a continuous dialogue with him," Benedict said.
"This nearness to him isn't limited to words and texts, because behind the texts I hear the pope himself. A man who goes to the Lord doesn't disappear. I believe that someone who goes to the Lord comes even closer to us; and I feel he is close to me and that I am close to the Lord."
Benedict also said the dying John Paul was "lucid" and bore his suffering with "inner serenity," describing his last two visits with him, one in early February and the other the day before his death on April 2.
"He was visibly in great pain," Benedict said, speaking of their last meeting. "He was still very lucid and he gave me his blessing. He could not talk much.
"Despite his visible pain, he was serene, because he was in the hands of Divine Love."
The Vatican (search) has spoken of Benedict's desire to travel to Poland, but Sunday's interview marked the first time the pope himself set a time for the trip.
His visit in August to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, was his only trip abroad as pontiff. The only other interview he has granted since becoming pope was given to Vatican Radio just before leaving for Cologne.
At the end of Sunday's interview, which was conducted in Italian, Benedict briefly switched into Polish for a direct message to viewers.
"I greet you from my heart, dear Poles," Benedict said, in a Polish that has grown stronger since his election in April.
"I hope that this day of unity with the pope breathes new life into your faith and your sensitivity to every person."
Throughout Poland on Sunday, Poles filled churches to remember John Paul on the anniversary of his election — the fifth year the day was celebrated — and the national and papal flags were raised throughout the country. In Warsaw, thousands gathered for an outdoor rock concert featuring religious songs dedicated to John Paul and Benedict.
John Paul was greatly loved in his predominantly Roman Catholic homeland. He is credited with inspiring the anti-communist Solidarity movement, which helped pave the way for a peaceful transition to democracy.