Ad multos annos: Believers walk from the house where pope Benedict XVI was born to the church for prayers in Marktl, southern Germany, early Monday to celebrate the pope's 85th birthday. The believers gathered at 4:15 in the morning, the exact time of the pontiff's birth. (AP /dapd, Lukas Barth)Pope Benedict XVI celebrated a very Bavarian birthday Monday, marking his 85 years with his brother, bishops and a musical band from his native land at the Vatican.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano issued birthday greetings on behalf of the College of Cardinals that elected Benedict, and welcomed the Bavarian bishops to the "family party" inside the Apostolic Palace.
Speaking in Latin, Sodano wished Benedict "many happy years" ahead - sentiments that were echoed in birthday greetings that arrived from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Queen Elizabeth II and Italy's president.
Monday's birthday is just the first in a week of milestones for Benedict: On Thursday he marks the seventh anniversary of his election as pope and on April 24 the anniversary of the start of his pontificate.
Despite his age and increasing frailty - he has begun using a cane on occasion - Benedict has quashed speculation of a possible resignation. On Sunday, he asked for prayers and strength "to fulfill the mission (the Lord) entrusted to me."
Benedict received one birthday gift ahead of time: a book of 20 essays by prominent Germans reflecting on the papacy, including German football great Franz Beckenbauer, who recalled meeting the pope a few months before Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup.
Beckenbauer said the two differed over what kind of shape Germany's squad was in, with the pope suggesting it was "pretty good." "I didn't have the same idea; and so I told him that at the very least they were on the right path to becoming good."
"He smiled kindly," Beckenbauer wrote.
The book was curated by Benedict's longtime secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein. In an interview Monday with Italy's La Repubblica daily, Gaenswein said the pope is often misconstrued and he should be known as a man of great courage.
"The German pope doesn't fear delicate questions or confrontations for the good of the church and faithful," he said.