As far as birthday presents go, they don't come any better than this. Three days after turning 78, Joseph Ratzinger's fellow cardinals made him supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, the ultimate guardian of the faith for the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.
Ratzinger, a German, now Pope Benedict XVI, is universally described as a staunch conservative, a pre-eminent intellectual and an unwavering theologian.
The fact that he was chosen in the shortest conclave in 66 years suggests his fellow cardinals were in no doubt they were entrusting the church to a safe pair of hands.
Beyond the confines of the Vatican, however, reactions were mixed.
So what can Catholics and non-Catholics expect from the new Pope?
According to Marco Politi, a Vatican expert writing for the Rome-based daily La Repubblica, it will be "a political and spiritual pontificate, but also full of surprises."
John Allen, a leading Vatican analyst writing for the US-based National Catholic Reporter, says the Church can expect "a hard-line, divisive pontificate."
Allen describes him as "a hero to the conservative wing of the Catholic Church" and as "something of a Darth Vader figure" to Catholic liberals.
"A formidable opponent of many of the reforms of which they have long dreamed," he says.
In his first public appearance as Pope, Benedict XVI portrayed an image of humility, deferring to the authority of his illustrious predecessor, John Paul II.
On social issues, Ratzinger has been uncompromising. He described homosexuality as "a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil."
Arcigay, an Italian gay-rights group, has already termed the new Pope a "homophobe" whose views on homosexuality are "disturbing."
As the Vatican's chief theological watchdog for a quarter of a century, Ratzinger has also made the ban on the ordination of women sacrosanct. His refusal to give in to modernity suggests he is willing to see the Church shrink in numbers at the cost of preserving its doctrinal integrity.
As Allen points out, Ratzinger has on many occasions indicated "the church of the future may have to be smaller to remain faithful."
US groups representing victims of sex abuse by priests, meanwhile, fear he will be a polarizing figure.
Ratzinger seemed "to prefer combativeness to compromise and compassion," says Mary Grant of the California-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
On the subject of inter-religious dialogue, Ratzinger is seen as a Pope who will be keen to build bridges with other Christian churches, but less inclined to make groundbreaking progress in dialogue with non-Christian denominations.
Russian Orthodox leaders, for instance, have expressed hope that Benedict XVI may be more successful than his predecessor in fostering dialogue with the Eastern church.
"I sincerely hope the pontificate of His Holiness will be celebrated for its development of good relations between our Churches and a fruitful Orthodox-Catholic dialogue," the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, said in a letter to Ratzinger.
Tensions between the two churches prevented the late Pope John Paul II from fulfilling his dream of visiting Russia during his papacy.
Benedict XVI made no specific reference to Islam or Judaism in his opening speech as Pope, focussing instead on the need for "concrete actions" to re-unite divided Christians.
Reaction from the Arab world has been muted, while some commentators have already begun to describe him as "an enemy of Jihad."
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the newly-elected chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, says Ratzinger had previously spoken out against anti-Semitism and believes the new Pope will continue on the path of reconciliation embarked upon by his predecessor.
Both Israel and the Palestine leadership have welcomed his election and will expect him to continue John Paul's efforts of seeking peace in the Middle East.
EU applicant Turkey, meanwhile, has been quick to downplay recent suggestions from Ratzinger that the overwhelmingly Muslim country does not belong in Europe and is in fact an Asian country.
"On this note, the statements [made by Ratzinger] have until this time been of a personal belief but from now it is possible that his statements will be very different," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
The new Pope's choice of name, Benedict, suggests a desire for peace. The last pontiff to choose this name, Benedict XV, ruled during the World War I, describing the conflict as "useless bloodshed" and calling on the victors not to be merciless towards the vanquished.
Benedict XVI, who grew up in Nazi Germany, has already made the attainment of global peace a central tenet of his new-born pontificate.
"I invoke from God unity and peace for the human family and declare the willingness of all Catholics to cooperate for true social development that respects the dignity of every human being," he said during his first speech as pontiff on Wednesday.
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