CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, MAY 5, 2005 ( Benedict XVI imparted a blessing to the people who gathered around the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo where he arrived on his first visit outside of Rome as Pope.

"I have come today to meet you for the first time, dear friends of Castel Gandolfo," the Pope said today. "Thank you for your presence and cordiality."

"I have come to make contact with the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, where God willing I plan to spend the summer months," he added.

The Pope arrived in an Italian air force helicopter, accompanied by the substitute of the Vatican Secretariat of State, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, and the prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop James Harvey.

He was received by Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, the local diocese, and by Cardinals Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and Edmund Casimir Szoka, president of the Commission for the Governorate of Vatican City, which oversees the papal villas.

The Pope met in the interior courtyard with workers of the papal villas. After Cardinal Szoka's welcome address, Benedict XVI thanked them for their work, which makes the villas "be as beautiful as they are, in a certain sense, as the Creator had first planned creation."

After blessing the persons gathered in the square outside the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father went on a private visit of the residence's gardens. He returned to Rome by helicopter.

The Castel Gandolfo residence, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Rome, is near Lake Albano. It has been a papal residence since Urban VIII's pontificate (1623-44).