Pope Benedict XVI spent his 84th birthday at work Saturday, making appointments, giving a speech and receiving top aides while well wishes arrived from around the world, including Queen Elizabeth II.
Benedict, who was born and baptized as Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927, in the Bavarian town of Marktl am Inn, Germany, was "spending a normal working day," Vatican Radio said.
No rest for the pope was immediately scheduled. His birthday fell on the eve of the start of a heavy stretch of Holy Week ceremonies, including Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sunday morning and a Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday.
Birthday greetings poured in from around the world, Vatican Radio said, including from political and religious authorities, figures from the world of culture, and rank-and-file faithful.
The radio's English-language service quoted from the British queen's greeting to Benedict and her recollection of the pontiff's visit to England and Scotland in September.
"On the occasion of your 84th birthday, I have much pleasure in sending my warmest felicitations and prayers to Your Holiness, recalling with great fondness the memorable visit," the greeting said.
During his morning, the pope appointed an Italian bishop, to the northern city of Vicenza, and greeted Spain's new ambassador to the Vatican with a speech defending religious freedom, a theme dear to Benedict since he was elected to the papacy three days after his birthday in 2005.
At a ceremony to present her credentials, Benedict appeared to be referring to modern European debates over how much the continent's Christian roots can play a role in public life, including recent court battles over whether crucifixes can adorn public school classrooms or courtrooms, as other faiths, especially Islam, increasingly occupy space in European communities.
Benedict lamented in this speech that there exist elements "often sophisticated (ones), hostile to the faith, which are sometimes expressed with the denial of history and of religious symbols, which mirror the identity and the culture of the majority of Christians."
The pope also met separately with top Vatican cardinals, including the prelate heading the Holy See's office for bishops. Just a day early, widespread outrage of how the church has handled decades of sexual abuse by clergy in much of the world deepened, when a former Belgian bishop admitted in a TV interview he had sexually abused two nephews, conduct he likened to a "game."
Sex abuse by clergy in many countries and above all how the Vatican has dealt with it has marked much of Benedict's papacy.
Critics say the former Cardinal Ratzinger, both as a former German archbishop and later as a Vatican cardinal who served as the church's watchdog on doctrinal orthodoxy, was more concerned with saving the church's moral reputation than acting to ensure abusing clergy could no longer harm children.
On May 1, Benedict will beatify John Paul II, after putting his predecessor on the fast track toward possible sainthood. John Paul's legacy was seriously tarnished since he presided over the worldwide Catholic Church at a time when many of the sexual crimes against children and covering up by bishops and other church hierarchy were committed. Through nearly all of John Paul's 26-year-long papacy, Ratzinger served as a top aide.