VATICAN CITY, APRIL 22, 2005 ( In the first audience of his pontificate, Benedict XVI expressed gratitude to the College of Cardinals, and asked them for his continued support.

Addressing himself today to all the cardinals present in Rome, both electors and non-electors, he pleaded: "I beg you, never fail to give me your support!"

"If on one hand I am conscious of the limits of my person and my ability," the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, "on the other I am well aware of the nature of the mission that has been entrusted to me and that I set out to undertake with an attitude of interior devotion."

"It is not a question of honors, but of service to be carried out with simplicity and availability, imitating our teacher and Lord, who did not come to be served but to serve, and who in the Last Supper washed the feet of the apostles, asking them to do the same," the Holy Father explained.

"Therefore, all that remains now is for me and all of us together to accept from Providence the will of God and to do our best to correspond to it, helping one another in the fulfillment of our respective duties at the service of the Church," Benedict XVI said.

The word most often repeated in the address was "gratitude."

First of all, to God, "who willed me, despite my human frailty, as Successor to the Apostle Peter, and has entrusted me with the task to govern and guide the Church, so that she will be a sacrament of unity in the world for the whole human race," he said.

The Holy Father then spoke about the rest of believers.

"In these days, the unanimous prayer of the Christian people was raised for the new Pontiff, and the first meeting with the faithful in St. Peter's Square the day before yesterday in the evening was truly moving," he said.

"To all bishops, priests, men and women religious, young people and elderly I express my heartfelt gratitude for their spiritual solidarity," the Pope continued.

Finally, Benedict XVI expressed his gratitude to the cardinals "for the trust you placed in me, electing me Bishop of Rome and Shepherd of the universal Church."

He also mentioned his predecessors, Blessed John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul I and John Paul II, "whose ever living presence we continue to feel."

"The light and strength of the risen Christ were irradiated in the Church in that sort of 'last Mass' that he celebrated in his agony, culminating in the 'Amen' of a life totally given, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the salvation of the world," Benedict XVI said.

Similar to John Paul II, the new Pope concluded by entrusting himself, the cardinals and all Christian communities to Our Lord Jesus Christ, through "the maternal protection of Mary, Mother of the Church."

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who on Thursday was again appointed Vatican secretary of state, greeted the Holy Father on behalf of the cardinals and assured him of "all our devotion, our total collaboration and our fraternal affection in Christ Jesus."

The cardinal borrowed an image of beech trees from theologian Romano Guardini (1885-1968) to speak about the Church.

"They have something that is blessed: something that is at once vigorous and gentle. ... All is saturated with shape, from the fine trunk to the most subtle twig," said Guardini.

Cardinal Sodano concluded by wishing that "the Lord will grant you, Holy Father, to imitate the work of St. Benedict for the good of the Church and of the world!"