New pope celebrates Mass, pledges to lead church toward unity

After celebrating Mass with the cardinals who elected him, Pope Benedict XVI pledged that he would lead the church on the path of unity, dialogue and evangelisation.

"I turn to everyone with simplicity and affection, to assure them that the church wants to continue to build an open and sincere dialogue with them, in the search of the true good of man and society," he said at the end of a liturgy in the Sistine Chapel yesterday.

Dressed in light gold vestments, the pope read his four-page Latin message in a clear and forceful voice, paying tribute to Pope John Paul II and outlining the priorities of his own pontificate.

Pope Benedict said that, like his predecessor, he considered the Second Vatican Council the compass for the modern church. In particular, he stressed his commitment to ecumenism and dialogue and said he was aware that "concrete gestures" were sometimes needed to promote breaking through old antagonisms.

At the same time, he said the chief priority for the modern church is to announce Christ to the world.

"The church today has to renew its awareness of the task of re-proposing to the world the voice of the one who said: 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,'" he said.

The liturgy at 9:00 am local time (5:00 pm in Sydney) was broadcast live on giant TV screens in a virtually empty St. Peter's Square. The evening before, some 100,000 people had gathered for the dramatic announcement of Pope Benedict's election and had cheered him at his first public appearance.

The pope said he had been completely surprised at his election, which came on the fourth ballot of the conclave. He said he began his papacy with two emotions: a sense of "inadequacy" and the confidence that God would help him.

Pope Benedict stressed the need for close unity between the pope and the world's bishops. This collegial communion, he said, favors "unity in the faith, on which depends in large measure the effectiveness of the church's evangelizing efforts in the modern world."

He asked bishops to accompany him "with prayers and with advice, so that I may truly be the 'servant of the servants of God.'"

Pope Benedict pledged to make the search for Christian unity a special priority. He called ecumenism a "compelling duty" and said he would "spare no energy" in trying to bring Christian churches together.

"What is most needed is that 'purification of memory' so often mentioned by John Paul II, which is the only thing that can lead souls to welcome the full truth of Christ," he said.

Acknowledging his predecessor's special relationship with young people, the new pope pledged that the church would continue to dialogue with them. He said he intended to travel in August to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day celebrations -- a tradition begun by Pope John Paul.

Pope Benedict underlined the importance of the current eucharistic year, also an initiative of the late pope, saying the Eucharist would be at the center of the Cologne festivities and of the Synod of Bishops in October.

The new pope recalled Pope John Paul with great affection and said he felt encouraged by the late pontiff as he began his own papacy.

Pope celebrates Mass, pledges to lead church toward unity, dialogue (Catholic News Service 20/4/05)

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21 Apr 2005