By Vatican count some four million people have come to the weekly audiences of Pope Benedict XVI since he took over as leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics a year ago, roughly the same number that Roman officials estimated came to pay homage to John Paul II when he died.
Tens of thousands jammed into St. Peter's Square on Wednesday to help Benedict mark his first anniversary as pontiff. Speaking in several languages, including English, Benedict told them he hoped that "by God's grace I will always be a gentle and firm shepherd of Christ's flock."
And indeed, to the surprise of many, that is just what the man once known as "God's Rottweiler" has turned out to be.
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger first appeared on the balcony of St Peter's as Benedict XVI, the reactions varied from enthusiastic to disappointed that a more sympathetic figure had not been chosen. There were fears that the first German pope in 1,000 years would be conservative to a fault, and dire predictions that as a 20-year denizen of the Roman Curia, Benedict would shake up the church's government and reshape it in drastic ways.
Instead, he stuck to basics. Few jobs were changed, and his most noticeable appointment was that of Archbishop William Levada to take over Benedict's old job of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The job also won Levada the rank of cardinal. The creation of cardinals is the pope's sole prerogative, and John Paul II frequently went well over the prescribed number of 120 of an age eligible to elect a new pope.
Benedict, however, adhered to the old ways, creating just enough new "princes of the church" to bring the number back to the norm.
And there were other differences between Benedict and his much-love predecessor, not all of them unwelcome.
Where John Paul II liked to make points with grand gestures, Benedict is a man of words. Teacher that he is, the new pope's words were clearer and easier to understand than the sometimes obtuse, Biblically-referenced ones of John Paul II.
He didn't exactly shun the limelight at first, but neither did Benedict revel in it the way John Paul II did.
Seventy-eight years old when he took over (79 on Easter Sunday), Benedict could never hope to emulate John Paul II's peripatetic ways even if he wanted to do so. And by all evidence he does not, although he will make four "apostolic voyages" this year, including one to John Paul II's native Poland that will include a stop at the Auschwitz concentration camp, surely no easy pilgrimage for a German, even if he is pope.
Benedict's first foreign trip was back to his homeland for World Youth Day, and while he appeared less comfortable center stage than his predecessor, he has grown into it as the months passed. Nonetheless, his style remains putting the church, rather than the man, in the forefront.
Benedict has continued John Paul II's efforts to reconcile the three great monotheistic religions. He visited Rome's synagogue, has met with Islamic leaders, and will travel to Turkey this fall and probably Israel in 2007.
Benedict also appears to be zeroing in on Asia, where, with the exception of the Philippines, the Catholic Church is weak. The newly appointed Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong is one example. Cardinal Zen is an outspoken critic of China's human rights shortcomings, and has repeatedly called on Beijing to allow more freedom of religion.
By elevating such a churchman to the rank of cardinal, Benedict is making the point that as much as the Vatican values and seeks greater contact with China, it is not about to back down on principle for the sake of converts.
The shepherd may be kinder and gentler than his flock ever expected, but firm is also very much part of his character.
All in all, the verdict after one year seems to be that Benedict is very much enjoying his new job, and even those who did less than herald his arrival have been pleasantly surprised.
By Allen Pizzey