Thousands gathered in Saint Peter's square on the first anniversary of Pope John Paul II's death to pay tribute to the man who led the world's Catholics for 26 years. During the day, many visited his tomb in the crypt underneath Saint Peter's basilica.

By early evening the square was filled with pilgrims holding candles and many waving red and white polish flags. Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian bishops conference, led the evening vigil with prayers, hymns and selected readings from John Paul's writings: his poetry, books and homilies.

Pope Benedict XVI appeared at his study window and joined the pilgrims in the recitation of the rosary. It was a reminder of the solemn prayers of the faithful at the same time last year underneath John Paul II's apartments.

At 21.37, the exact time of Pope John Paul's death, pope Benedict addressed the faithful saying that a year has gone by since the death of his predecessor, but his memory continues to be very alive.

The pope said John Paul II continues to be present in our mind and in our heart, he continues to communicate his love for god and his love for man.

Pope Benedict XVI said that two words could possibly summarize the life and evangelical mission of John Paul II: faith and devotion. These, Benedict added, appeared even more convincing during his final months.

The pope said John Paul's faced illness with courage and made everyone more attentive to human pain. A man's worth, he said, does not depend on his efficiency or appearance, but on himself.

Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had said his predecessor had left a deep mark in the history of the church and of humanity. Pope Benedict will be celebrating a suffrage mass for John Paul Monday afternoon in Saint Peter's basilica.