Pope celebrates first Mass

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The Independent Online

Pope Benedict XVI pledged today to work to unify all Christians, reach out to other religions and continue implementing the Second Vatican Council as he outlined his goals and made clear his pontificate would follow closely the trajectory of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict XVI pledged today to work to unify all Christians, reach out to other religions and continue implementing the Second Vatican Council as he outlined his goals and made clear his pontificate would follow closely the trajectory of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, listed top priorities of his pontificate in a lengthy message read in Latin to cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel for the first Mass celebrated by the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

He said his "primary task" would be to work to reunify all Christians and that sentiment alone was not enough. "Concrete acts that enter souls and move consciences are needed," he said.

He said he wanted to continue "an open and sincere dialogue" with other religions and would do everything in his power to improve the ecumenical cause.

The message was clearly designed to show that Benedict intended to follow many of the groundbreaking paths charted by Pope John Paul II, who had made reaching out to other religions and trying to heal the 1,000-year-old schism in Christianity a hallmark of his pontificate.

Benedict referred to John Paul several times in his message, including a reference to the late pope's final will, where John Paul said he hoped new generations would draw on the work of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meeting that modernised the church.

"I too ... want to affirm with decisive willingness to follow in the commitment of carrying out the Second Vatican Council, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the 2,000-year-old tradition of the church," he said.

John Paul, with Benedict as his doctrinal enforcer, supported council reforms but cracked down on what both men considered excesses spawned by the changes, including calls for priests to be allowed to marry and admission of women into the priesthood.

The Vatican's hard-line enforcer of church orthodoxy under John Paul II for almost 25 years, Benedict had gone into the two-day conclave one of the favorites. He emerged yesterday as the oldest pontiff at the time of his election in 275 years and the first Germanic pope in almost a millennium.

Benedict said today he felt John Paul's presence as he wrestled with two conflicting emotions following the election: thanks to God for the gift of being pope but also "a sense of inadequacy" in carrying out the responsibility.

Benedict inherits a range of pressing issues. These include priest sex-abuse scandals that have cost the church millions in settlements in the United States and elsewhere, chronic shortages of priests and nuns in the West, and calls for easing the ban on condoms to help fight the spread of AIDS.

And he has to follow in the footsteps of John Paul II, the global pontiff who made 104 international trips in his more than 26 years as pope and set new standards in reaching out to other religions.

In an indication that he would indeed travel and continue to reach out to young people like John Paul, Benedict said today he planned to attend the church's World Youth Day celebrations in Cologne, Germany this August.

Just before the cardinals entered the conclave on Monday morning, he made clear where he stands ideologically, using words that John Paul would surely have endorsed. He warned about tendencies that he considered dangers to the faith: sects and ideologies like Marxism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism and relativism - the ideology that there are no absolute truths.

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