Wednesday, April 15, 2009

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI received birthday wishes a day early on Wednesday when pilgrims attending his general audience broke into a round of “Happy Birthday.”

The pope turns 82 on Thursday.

Benedict smiled and waved as the group sang to him in English. At one point, he stood up, his arms raised, and smiled.

On Sunday, Benedict also marks the four-year anniversary of his election as pontiff.

Vatican media noted the milestones Wednesday, with the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano running a front-page birthday greeting in Latin.

“Ad multos annos, sancte pater,” it read. “Many happy returns, Holy Father.”

Vatican Radio also ran a birthday special: an interview with papal spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, in which he acknowledged that the most difficult period of the past year was the Vatican’s decision to remove the excommunication of a bishop who denied the Holocaust.

Despite the outcry that ensued, he said Benedict’s decision was guided by his overall desire to “bring men back to God and God back to men.”

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