At his weekly general audience today and on the eve of his 82nd birthday, Pope Benedict XVI was greeted with warm applause and singing from a crowd of 30,000 pilgrims gathered under sunny skies in St. Peter’s Square.

Among those attending was Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who is in Rome at the invitation of the Sant’Egidio lay community because of his recent decision to sign legislation to abolish the death penalty in his state.

The Sant’Egidio community has long campaigned for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty.

Meanwhile, on Vatican Radio today, papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi reflected on Benedict’s birthday tomorrow.

“I hope,” the Jesuit priest said, “that [the Holy Father] can continue to carry out his ministry, a ministry which offers profound help for men and women in meeting God. I see this truly at the center of his concerns — bringing people to God and God to man, through a great personal love for Christ.”

Father Lombardi added that he strongly hoped that by calling on the magisterium and through completion of the second volume of his book on Jesus (which Father Lombardi said he was eagerly awaiting), the Pope can continue “to bring a message of love, a message for the good of the human person, and that is really man’s reconciliation with God and with all other men who live on this earth.”

Father Lombardi said the Holy Father’s teaching was particularly valuable in a contemporary society “that’s attached to many negative aspects of culture or the mentality of today.”

Reflecting on Benedict’s achievements over the past year, Father Lombardi pointed out the Pope has traveled to four continents in 12 months and reminded listeners that around this time last year he was in the United States.

All of the Holy Father’s trips, Father Lombardi said, were significant in terms of the welcome received and the effectiveness with which his message was accepted by the public, even by audiences who had a completely different cultural point of view or situation.

Said Father Lombardi, “I would say that the Pope has lived the universal dimension of his ministry very effectively during this past year.”