Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected the first German pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church in almost five centuries on Tuesday. Describing himself as "a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord," he chose to be called Benedict XVI.

Ratzinger, who turned 78 on Saturday, was one of Pope John Paul II's closest aides. A conservative who served as head of the Vatican office that enforces church doctrine, he was dubbed "the great inquisitor" by his critics.

The German prelate had been considered the front-runner to succeed the Polish-born John Paul, who died on April 2. Ratzinger's 114 fellow cardinal-electors chose him on their fourth ballot, less than 24 hours after they opened their conclave. At least 77 votes, a two-thirds majority, were required for election.

A slight, white-haired figure wearing a short red cape and wine and gold stole over his white soutane, the new pope stepped smiling through red velvet curtains onto the main balcony of St. Peter's Basilica shortly before 7 p.m.

He threw his arms wide and clasped his hands above his head. "Dear brothers and sisters," Ratzinger said, "after the great Pope John Paul II, the signor cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."

Tens of thousands of Romans and pilgrims had gathered in St. Peter's Square despite a light rain. The crowd warmly applauded the new pope's greeting, but clapped and cheered longer and louder when he evoked John Paul.

"The fact that the Lord works and acts even with insufficient instruments consoles me and above all I trust in your prayers," Ratzinger said. "We go forward in the joy of the risen Lord, trusting in his permanent aid. The Lord will help us and Mary, his most holy mother, will be at our side." ...

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