At Installation Mass, New Pope Strikes a Tone of Openness


New York Times

April 24, 2005

VATICAN CITY, April 24 - Benedict XVI was installed on Sunday as the 265th pope of the Roman Catholic Church in a huge outdoor Mass on St. Peter's Square, proclaiming that the death of his popular predecessor, John Paul II, had shown the world that "the church is alive."

"This is the wonderful experience of these days," he said in a lengthy homily, which like all the events of these last three busy weeks since John Paul died, attracted enormous crowds as well as intense and worldwide media coverage.

"During those sad days of the pope's illness and death, it became wonderfully evident to us that the church is alive," he added. "And the church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way toward the future."

Under the eyes of 350,000 spectators and dignitaries from 131 nations, the Mass marked an important moment in the transformation of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 78, a shy but firm and theologically conservative German used to working out of sight, into one of the world's most public figures. He accepted two symbols of the pope's authority: the pallium, a cloth of lamb's wool wrapped around his neck, and the gold ring of the fisherman, which he slipped on his right ring finger.

After the three-hour Mass, he toured St. Peter's Square in the back of a white popemobile with no protective glass: He had looked tired and serious during the Mass but broke into a broad smile as his car cut through screams, camera flashes and a sea of flags from the around the world.

"You know what was bellisimo? His smiling face," Simona Morello, a 19-year-old student, said soon after Benedict passed by and became the first pope she had ever seen.

In his half-hour homily, in which he sounded very much like the teacher of the theology he once was, he said he specifically chose not to use the installation Mass to lay out what future for the church he would create.

Instead, he struck a tone of openness, saying, "My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole church."

In doing so, the pope sent a pointed message to some Catholics who say they lamented the record he had compiled as Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 24 years. In that role, which he held until he assumed the papacy, he had disciplined errant theologians, discouraged clergy and laity calling for liberal reform in the church and issued strict interpretations of church doctrine that alienated some believers.

But in the two Masses he has publicly celebrated since becoming pope, he has cast himself as a unifier. "Grant that we may be one flock and one shepherd!" he said today in his homily. "Do not allow your net to be torn, help us to be servants of unity!"

His homily itself dwelled on the church's most obvious source of unity, which is its liturgy. In his previous role, he had often insisted on preserving traditional liturgical practices and not permitting experimentation. At the Mass today, the pope instructed the crowd at length on the meaning of the two liturgical symbols used in the inauguration Mass - the pallium and the fisherman's ring.

The lambs wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep, which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life, he said.

He used a pastoral tone, and some in the crowd responded positively.

"He said Christ is in us, in a simple manner," said Roxana Zurita, 44, a Panamanian who lives in Rome. "It was not a doctrinal manner, it was simple. We are learning that other part of him, the simple part."

At 78, he is the oldest pope to be elected in nearly 300 years, and he also referred to the burden of the job. "And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am," he said, "I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity."

The Mass marked the last major public event in the ancient pageantry that surrounds the death of a pope and the election of a new one, and this first change of popes in 26 years has preoccupied both Italy and the Catholic Church: Nearly three million pilgrims came to pay their respects to John Paul, then an unusually brief conclave of one day ended with white smoke signaling the election of John Paul's doctrinal watchdog, Cardinal Ratzinger.

The installation Mass did not attract the same overwhelming numbers as the viewing of John Paul's body or his funeral, but the crowds were still thick, if slightly restrained in enthusiasm for a pope many said they did not know well yet.

"The memory of the last pope is still so strong," said Tiziana Murace, 33, a union representative who traveled from southern Italy from the ceremony. "It takes time. It will take time to feel that Pope Ratzinger is my pope."