VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI marveled Saturday at the way modern media have focused the world’s attention on the Vatican over the past three weeks, thanking in person some 2,000 journalists.

But in the most vivid demonstration yet of how his personal style differs from his predecessor’s, Benedict gave a short scripted address, said a prayer and then said a jovial “Grazie, arrivederci!” before retiring.

In 1978, Pope John Paul II made history when he decided to meet with reporters on the eve of his installation. After a short talk, he waded into the crowd, answered questions, shaking hands and quizzing journalists about their hometowns in a spontaneous 40-minute session that became known as the first papal news conference.

When the Vatican announced that Benedict XVI would hold a session for journalists this week, expectations soared for a similar glimpse behind the formal persona of the pope.

But the new pontiff, less of an extrovert and 20 years older than John Paul was at his election, stuck to a different script.

“The attention of the entire world has remained focused on the basilica, on St. Peter’s Square, and on the Apostolic Palace, inside which my predecessor, the unforgettable Pope John Paul II, serenely ended his earthly existence, and where, afterward in the Sistine Chapel the cardinals have elected me as his successor,” he said in Italian, one of four languages he spoke during the 15-minute address.

Seated on the stage of the Vatican audience hall in his white cassock and red shoes, gold-rimmed reading glasses tilted to one side, the avuncular looking pontiff then shifted to English.

“The possibilities opened up for us by modern means of social communication are indeed marvelous and extraordinary!” he said.

Victor Simpson, longtime chief of the Associated Press Rome bureau and dean of the English-language Vatican journalists, recalled the astonishment Pope John Paul II created in the 1978 news conference, held in a much smaller chamber of the Apostolic Palace.

“He saw all these journalists pushing and shoving and walked right over into the middle of it,” Simpson said.

Pope Benedict XVI’s appearance, he added, reminded him much more of the regal papal style that preceded John Paul II.

“I personally think he missed an opportunity,” Simpson said.

(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Pope Benedict

AP-NY-04-23-05 1719EDT

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