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Issue Date:  May 6, 2005

Benedict emphasizes service

At installation Mass, he calls listening his 'program of governance'


Pope Benedict XVI officially took the reins of the Roman Catholic church at his installation Mass April 24, receiving the symbols of his authority with a call for unity with other faiths and a pledge to govern the church through cooperation rather than papal mandate.

In a ceremony colored by centuries-old pageantry, Benedict accepted the fisherman’s ring and seal -- the symbol of his continuity with St. Peter -- and a lamb’s wool pallium -- a circular band with pendants front and back that signifies the pope’s role as the shepherd of the faithful. Benedict then delivered a homily that aimed to recast these tokens of papal power as symbols of service, signaling a dramatic departure from his former role as the church’s chief doctrinal authority.

“At this moment there is no need for me to present a program of governance,” he told the 350,000-strong crowd, composed of dignitaries, religious leaders, royalty and rank-and-file faithful. “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.”

Benedict extended his call to Christian churches “not yet in full communion” with the pontiff and to the Jewish people, whom he characterized as “brothers and sisters,” united with the church through “a great shared spiritual heritage.”

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict was the chief author of a document that reasserted Catholicism’s superiority over other faiths and claimed that other Christian churches derive salvific power through their links to Catholicism. On April 24, Benedict showed no signs of excluding anyone from his reign.

“Like a wave gathering force, my thoughts go out to all men and women of today, to believers and nonbelievers alike,” Benedict said.

Benedict began the ceremony beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, in a space believed to mark the burial spot of Catholicism’s first pope, St. Peter. He wore heavy golden vestments, embroidered with a seashell patterns and gripped a papal staff that once belonged to his predecessor, John Paul II. Upon appearing in the square, Benedict stood before the cheering crowd. His eyes scanned the throng while his face remained expressionless.

With St. Peter’s massive façade looming over his shoulder, Benedict waited as the fisherman’s ring and the pallium were carried from the altar to his throne.

Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, the Chilean who proclaimed Benedict’s name to the world from the basilica balcony April 19, placed the pallium around the pontiff’s neck. A simple stole made of white lamb’s wool, the pallium was embroidered with five crimson crosses that Estévez pinned with silver stakes to signify the nailing of Christ to the cross.

Benedict described the pallium, an accessory popular among Medieval popes, as a “yoke” that “does not alienate us, it purifies us -- even if this can be painful.”

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state, brought a golden jewel box before the pontiff with its lid ajar, exposing the glittering fisherman’s ring, emblazoned with a relief of Peter casting his fishing net -- the image traditionally used to seal apostolic letters. Benedict took it from the box and slid his right ring finger through it.

Twelve people representing Christ’s disciples then lined up to kneel before Benedict and kiss his ring. Among the 12 chosen was a religious woman -- the first ever to participate in the ritual.

As Benedict read the homily, his eyes fixed to the text. Occasionally he invoked the name of John Paul II, stirring applause from the crowd and memories of his predecessor’s commanding skills as an orator. Once he cited John Paul’s Mass of investiture in 1978, when the late pontiff said: “Do not be afraid!” The words stood in stark contrast to Benedict’s soft-spoken message.

“I am not alone,” Benedict declared, prompting loud cheers from the audience. “You see,” he said, lifting his eyes to the crowd in a brief departure from his text. “We see it. We hear it.”

Benedict’s call for unity also contrasted with the dire tones of the messages he had delivered as a cardinal -- most notably a Good Friday address that characterized the church as a sinking ship and the pre-conclave Mass when the cardinal called on the church to defend itself against an ideology-based “dictatorship of relativism.”

At his installation Mass, Benedict cast his condemnation of ideological influence in a more subtle light. “All ideologies of power justify themselves in exactly this way. They justify the destruction of whatever would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity,” he said. “God, who became a lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the crucified, not by those who crucify.”

“Pray for me,” he said, “that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”

After the Mass concluded, Benedict mounted a white jeep and circled the square to the cheers of onlookers who held out their hands and flashed digital cameras. Beyond the square, an endless crowd packed the Via della Conciliazione, which was lined with jumbotrons for the occasion. Similar screens were positioned outside Vatican City walls to accommodate late arrivals.

City officials estimated that 100,000 pilgrims from the pope’s native Germany attended the event.

Among them was Simone Steffan, 30, who traveled 12 hours by train from Munich to arrive in Rome Sunday morning and secure a spot in the square.

“I saw the top of his hat,” she said, describing the pontiff’s cruise in the popemobile. Steffan followed most of the Mass in a state of incomprehension, waiting for the pontiff to speak in his native tongue. Her wish was not fulfilled. “I just wanted one word in German,” she said.

Dignitaries from more than 131 countries also attended the Mass, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; Metropolitan Chrisostomos, a top envoy for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Christian Orthodox; and a senior representative of the Russian Orthodox church, Metropolitan Kirill, were present at the Mass and were scheduled to meet with the freshman pontiff later in the day.

Following the Mass, dignitaries formed a line inside the basilica to greet the newly installed pope. Schroeder gently bowed and shook hands with Benedict while Queen Sofia of Spain, wearing a lacy white dress and a flowing veil, knelt before the pontiff and planted a kiss on his newly minted ring.

Although Spain ranks among Europe’s largest Catholic countries, Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s prime minister, did not attend Benedict’s installation Mass. This week, the lower chamber of the Spanish parliament passed by an overwhelming majority a bill that allows gay couples to marry and adopt children.

As the former Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict condemned homosexuality. He has not addressed the issue since becoming pope as Vatican officials have worked hard to present their pope in a softer hue.

Benedict “has been catapulted into this position,” said Costantino Mirra, 52, who runs a sanitation company in southern Italy. “Before he had an embarrassing job,” he said, referring to Benedict’s days as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “Now he can reflect, taking his new job one day at a time.”

While his ministry officially began April 24, Benedict has been in the public eye for months. As the dean of the College of Cardinals, he was designated to celebrate John Paul’s funeral.

In a repeat performance of that day, Italian authorities employed elaborate security measures. Boats patrolled the Tiber River, a no-fly zone was imposed, antimissile units were put in position as were NATO surveillance aircraft. The city of Rome reported that 10,000 police were deployed.

In a final invocation of the late pope, Benedict reformulated John Paul’s 1978 call to not be afraid: “I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ!”

Stacy Meichtry is a freelance journalist based in Rome. He is reporting and writing for NCR during this period of papal transition.

National Catholic Reporter, May 6, 2005

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