Cardinals Pledge Their Support to Pope Benedict

The pontiff speaks humbly of the need for collaboration. Rome anticipates influx of hundreds of thousands for his inaugural Mass.

By Tracy Wilkinson

Los Angeles Times

April 23, 2005

ROME — Sitting in the marbled hall where Pope John Paul II lay in state two weeks ago, Benedict XVI on Friday greeted Roman Catholic cardinals who knelt before him one by one after pledging their support.

The new pontiff, wearing the long white robes of his position, thanked the cardinals for electing him and told them he would need their help to serve as "pastor of the universal church."

"It is an act of faith that constitutes encouragement as I undertake this new mission with more serenity, because I know that I can count on your generous collaboration in addition to the indispensable help of God," Benedict said.

Referring to his human fragility, he added: "If on the one hand I know the limits of my person and my abilities, I also know the nature of the mission entrusted to me and which I undertake with an attitude of inner dedication."

Friday's meeting, which was televised live on Italian TV, was the latest in the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's efforts to project a softer, fatherly image in contrast to his reputation as an unbending enforcer of church doctrine. It came as the Vatican prepared for the pope's inaugural Mass on Sunday.

The cardinals' meeting took place in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace and opened with remarks by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, whom Benedict reaffirmed Thursday in his position as Vatican secretary of state. Sodano pledged support for the new pope on behalf of his "brother cardinals."

Those who gathered in secret this week to elect the pope, as well as cardinals who were ineligible to vote because they are 80 or older, were in attendance. One by one they approached Benedict, who was seated on a gilded throne, knelt before him and kissed his hand. He smiled amiably and exchanged a few words with the men in various languages.

Benedict rose to greet a couple of the more infirm cardinals, such as Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, 81, of Poland, who uses a wheelchair.

"This is not about being honored but rather about a service to be carried out with simplicity and willingness," the pope said. "I beg you: Never deprive me of your support!"

The Vatican, meanwhile, was gearing up for a new invasion of dignitaries and pilgrims, especially from Benedict's home country of Germany, for Sunday's elaborate investiture ceremony in St. Peter's Square.

The first papal installation in nearly 27 years is not expected to draw the multitudes that attended John Paul's funeral this month. However, Roman officials predicted that up to half a million people could crowd into the square and nearby streets to watch the ceremony in person or on large TV screens that will be erected in various spots.

Italy will close the airspace over Rome in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks, and police were checking sewers and sealing manhole covers. Having managed the influx for the April 8 funeral, authorities know what to expect and are readying water supplies, shuttle buses and medical emergency personnel.

Among the crowds will be busloads of Germans coming to see their compatriot become the first German pope in about 1,000 years. Authorities said as many as 100,000 Germans might arrive, and they planned to recruit volunteers from German-speaking parts of northern Italy to help.

Because Monday is a national holiday here, Italians are also expected to pour into Rome, taking advantage of the three-day weekend. The holiday commemorates the 1945 liberation of Italy from World War II German forces.