VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI signed autographs, kissed children and shook the hands of hundreds of pilgrims Wednesday as his latest weekly audience found him warming up to his new role as pastor of the world's Roman Catholics.
Thousands turned out in St. Peter's Square on a warm, sunny day for the third general audience of his papacy following his election April 19.
The pope also blessed the sick, then waved to the crowd as he took a spin through the square in an opened-topped vehicle after delivering a homily that offered "fear of God" as an antidote to the world's ills.
Benedict warned against a secular view of history in his homily based on biblical texts.
"History is not in the hands of dark powers, of chance or mere human choices," Benedict said.
Rather, he said, "the Lord is the supreme arbitrator of history."
In an off-the-cuff remark, Benedict recommended "fear of God" as a way to deal with the difficulties of the world.
"It is through the fear of God that we are not afraid of the world and its problems; we are not afraid of men because God is stronger," Benedict said.
Benedict's predecessor Pope John Paul II turned the once formal weekly audiences into an opportunity for personal contact with his flock from around the world, delivering greetings in as many as 10 languages and working the crowd at the end of the appointment.
In his previous audiences, Benedict reserved his handshakes for VIPS, indicating to some he might adopt a more formal style for these public appointments.
But on Wednesday, Benedict seemed to be enjoying the more personal approach of his predecessor. He lingered for more than an hour on the steps leading to St. Peter's Basilica, spending much of the time with the sick lined up atop the steps in wheelchairs, caressing cheeks, blessing foreheads and often bending down to hear a tale or offer a word of comfort.
"He has a wonderful quality of taking his time," said Paola Pia Rotella, who got her first view of Benedict when he came to her hometown of Castel Gandolfo last week to inspect the papal summer residence there.
The charismatic John Paul built up a tremendous public following in his 26 years as pope, leaving Benedict to find his own ways of making contact with his worldwide flock.
So admired and beloved was John Paul that calls for a speedy sainthood started sounding in the hours after his death on April 2.
Adding his voice Wednesday to those pressing for sainthood soon was a top Vatican cardinal, Dario Castrillon Hoyos.
"John Paul II, a saint right away, I join the people in saying that," the Colombian prelate was quoted as telling a religious news service. He expressed hope that some progress toward a beatification could come by May 18, when John Paul would have turned 85.
Last week, the Vatican official in charge of sainthood cases called John Paul a "model of holiness" but cautioned that it would be up to Benedict to lift the mandatory five-year waiting period after a candidate's death for the formal process aimed at sainthood to begin.