ROME, April 25 -- Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims from his native Germany on Monday that during the conclave that elected him last week, he prayed that he wouldn't get the job.
Meeting with hundreds of cheering visitors in the huge Paul VI Hall at Vatican City, he recounted his misgivings. "As the trend in the ballots slowly made me realize that -- in a manner of speaking, the guillotine would fall on me -- I started to feel quite dizzy," he said.
"I thought that I had done my life's work and could now hope to live out my days in peace," he said. "I told the Lord with deep conviction, 'Don't do this to me. You have younger, better candidates with more elan and strength.' "
He told the group: "Evidently, on this occasion He didn't listen to me."
Then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he could have eliminated himself from contention by getting up before any of the closed-door votes in the Sistine Chapel and telling the 114 other cardinal electors that he didn't want the papacy. Numerous news reports have said that Ratzinger had a well-organized cluster of supporters able to round up votes quickly. It took only four ballots to elect him.
At Monday's audience, Benedict suggested he was dissuaded from dropping out by a fellow cardinal who slipped him a note reminding him of a biblical story about Jesus and Peter, the founder of the Roman Catholic Church. In the story, which Ratzinger used as the basis for his sermon at the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, Jesus tells Peter to follow him even to places he might not want to go. "Then I had no choice, and I said yes," he told the pilgrims.
The pope entered Paul VI Hall through a central corridor that let him mingle with the visitors. They yelled out his name and chanted, "Benedict, gift from God," which rhymes in German.
Benedict told them: "My roots are in Bavaria, and I'm still Bavarian even as bishop of Rome," one of the pope's titles. Benedict has yet to address his diocese directly, something his predecessor, John Paul, was quick to do after being elected in 1978.
Benedict also told a joke at the meeting. Apologizing for arriving late to the hall, he said: "Germans are used to punctuality, but I'm already Italianized."
During a separate meeting Monday with leaders and representatives of non-Catholic religions, Benedict pledged to "continue building bridges of friendship." For the first time, he singled out Muslims for a greeting.
It was his third outreach message since being elected pope last Tuesday. On Wednesday, in his first post-conclave homily, he said unity talks with other Christians and contact with non-Christian groups should continue. On Sunday, he sent a greeting to non-Catholic Christians, to Jews and to "non-believers."
On Monday, he promised Christian representatives he would take steps to unite Christendom. Then he addressed "dear friends from different religious traditions."
"I offer warm and affectionate greetings to you and to all those who belong to the religions that you represent," he said. "I am particularly grateful for the presence in our midst of members of the Muslim community."
Benedict said he was grateful for the "growth" of Muslim-Christian dialogue. "I assure you that the church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions," Benedict said.
Inter-Christian relations and talks with non-Christian religions were among the works John Paul pursued most avidly. As the cardinal in charge of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict issued a document arguing the supremacy of Catholicism. Reports in Italian journals and newspapers said he was unenthusiastic about a series of prayer meetings that John Paul held in Assisi with leaders of non-Christian religions that included Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
Before Benedict's election, Vatican officials suggested that the new pope, whoever he was, would rethink the outreach to Islam. The officials expressed disappointment that Christian minorities in several Muslim countries had continued to suffer discrimination.
On Sunday, Benedict said the primary reason for dialogue with other religions was to build peace.
His outreach to Orthodox Christianity met its first roadblock Monday when the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexy II, said Benedict could not visit Russia until the two churches resolved long-standing differences. "There cannot be a visit just for the sake of a visit," Alexy told the Interfax news agency. "There cannot be a meeting purely for television cameras."
The Russian church contends that Catholics are recruiting believers in Russia, which Alexy considers his church's territory. The patriarch told Interfax that Russian Orthodox believers are discriminated against in western Ukraine, where the Ukrainian Catholic Church, an Eastern Rite church that accepts the primacy of the pope, is strong.
Apcom, an Italian news agency, reported that Benedict met privately Monday morning with a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church.