VATICAN CITY — A new illustrated children's book detailing Pope Benedict XVI's daily life was published Thursday as the pontiff celebrated his 82nd birthday in the quiet company of his older brother.
"Max and Benedict," about a sparrow's impressions of the pope from his perch on St. Peter's Basilica, is a sequel of sorts to the 2007 children's book "Joseph and Chico," which told the story of the pope's early years from the point of view of a tabby cat.
The new book contains no revelations about the pontiff's daily routine, but its narrator, Max, proves to be a charming eyewitness to the work both spiritual and bureaucratic that occupies Benedict's day.
"I can say he's a tireless worker, but also likeable and cordial," a longtime collaborator of the pope, Monsignor Damiano Marzotto, wrote in a prologue to the book.
There's Mass at around 7 a.m. with Benedict's "family" _ his two secretaries, cook and other aides. Around 8 a.m., he moves into his study to read the newspapers, correspondences, documents and speeches he will deliver later in the day.
"If only you knew how much he reads in a day!" Max marvels. "We shouldn't be surprised, since the life of the Catholic church in every corner of the world passes by his desk."
At 10:30 a.m., audiences begin with Vatican cardinals, visiting prelates and dignitaries. Many are so nervous they constantly check to see that their ties or vestments are straight, their hair combed and shoes shined, only to be put at ease by his cordiality, Max observes.
At 1 p.m. he returns to the papal apartment for a "simple lunch," followed by a walk on the palazzo roof terrace, where, Max notes, no one but he can see the pope.
Benedict is back in the office by 3 p.m. but he takes a break an hour later to stretch his legs in the Vatican gardens, where he recites the rosary and prays before the grotto of the Madonna of Lourdes.
By 5 p.m. he is back at his desk. This is the time, Max notes, that Benedict likes to write, although he often has to meet with cardinals once again. By dusk, Benedict can rest.
"After a dinner like that of a little bird, he watches the news and then relaxes with a book or some music," Max observes, noting that occasionally Benedict plays the piano before retiring to his room.
The book was written by Jeanne Perego and illustrated by Donata Dal Molin Casagrande, who teamed up for "Joseph and Chico," which publisher Edizioni Messaggero Padova said has sold tens of thousands of books in 14 countries. An English edition is expected soon.
Most of the information about the pontiff's daily routine has been published in some form or another in the Italian media over the years.
The book was published as Benedict spent his 82nd birthday with his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, at the papal summer retreat in the hills south of Rome.
Monsignor Ratzinger, whom the pontiff has described as his trustworthy guide and companion, is a frequent visitor to Castel Gandolfo and last year was named an honorary citizen of the town.
Benedict is spending the week at the residence to relax after his busy Holy Week services. He is due back at the Vatican on Sunday.