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Pope Benedict XVI delivers penultimate Sunday Angelus

Benedict XVI in 2013 (PA)

Pope Benedict XVI has told Catholics that making God the centre of one’s life is a “spiritual battle” because the Devil doesn’t want people to be holy and “tries to detour us from the path toward God,” as he led the penultimte Sunday Angelus of his papacy.

People came to St Peter’s Square in larger numbers than normal for Sunday Angelus because it was the first completely public, non-ticketed event, since the Pope announced that he will abdicate on February 28.

Calling this an unusual time for him and for the Church, without mentioning his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI thanked people for their affection and asked them to continue their prayers.

A roar of applause rose up from more than 50,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Square as Pope Benedict came to his studio window to lead the Angelus prayer.

As he does every week, the Pope greeted groups of pilgrims in their native tongues. Addressing Spanish speakers, he said, “My heartfelt thanks … for your prayers and affection in these days. Continue to pray for me and the next pope.”

And he told Polish speakers: “Thank you for your prayerful support and spiritual closeness in these days that are so unusual for the Church and for me.”

Before leading the Angelus prayer, Pope Benedict commented on the beginning of Lent and the day’s Gospel reading about the temptation of Jesus.

He said Lent is a time for Catholics to renew their spiritual lives and turn to God, “renouncing pride and selfishness to live in love.”

The Gospel account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, he said, shows just how “subtle” the devil can be: he does not try to trick Jesus directly into evil, but tempts him with “a false good.”

When power or material goods, even basic necessities, become the most important priorities, “God becomes secondary,” the Pope said. “In the final analysis, faith is at stake with temptations because God is at stake. In the decisive moments of our lives, we face a juncture: do we want to follow the ego or God, individual interests or the one who is truly good?”

The good news, the Pope said, is that Jesus has defeated the devil for us, “therefore, we are not afraid to take up the battle against evil; what is important is that we do so with him, with Christ, the victor.”

For many Roman families, joining the Pope for the recitation of the Angelus is a normal part of a Sunday or holiday stroll, and they were joined on Sunday by Gianni Alemanno, Mayor of Rome, and members of the city council.

With large crowds expected, officers from a variety of Italian and Rome police forces, as well as paramedics and even rubbish collectors had deployed along the broad avenue leading to St Peter’s Square and along the square’s perimeter by 10 am.

An hour before the Angelus, thousands of people were already in the square. The young staked out places by sitting on the cold cobblestones. Others previewed their banners for the press, including some that said: “You are Peter. Stay” and “Thank you, Holy Father. We love you very much.”

Pope Benedict ended his remarks by asking for special prayers for himself and his top aides in the Roman Curia as they were about to begin their annual Lenten retreat that evening.