Pray for me, says Pope at mass in St Peter's Square

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The Independent Online

At a grand mass in St Peter's Square yesterday morning, during which he was formally installed in office, Pope Benedict XVI pressed ahead with the message of meekness and openness that has marked his first days as pontiff.

At a grand mass in St Peter's Square yesterday morning, during which he was formally installed in office, Pope Benedict XVI pressed ahead with the message of meekness and openness that has marked his first days as pontiff.

The former Vatican official, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who for more than two decades policed the Catholic Church for doctrinal crime, is in the midst of a dramatic image makeover. The diminutive Bavarian intellectual who became a hate figure for liberals in the Church after forcing many innovative thinkers to shut up or get out, once again declared his inadequacy for the office to which he was elected.

"Now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am," he told a congregation estimated by the Vatican at 350,000, "I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this? ... Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves."

During the mass he was invested with the symbols of his office, the pallium - a thin woollen shawl embroidered with crosses, laid across his shoulders as a symbol of his role as shepherd - and the fisherman's ring, a reminder of the profession of his ultimate predecessor, St Peter, and Christ's demand that he become a fisher of men.

At 78, the former Cardinal Ratzinger may be the oldest new pope for three centuries, but he showed no sign of wilting under all the attention, greeting an endless line of dignitaries with every appearance of interest and preaching a sermon that continued the theme of humility and inadequacy that he picked up after his election last week.

Declining to "present a programme of governance", he instead focused on the need for a good shepherd and a fisher of men in a world poisoned by "exploitation and destruction".

"The human race," he said, "is the sheep lost in the desert ... And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast ... The earth's treasures no longer serve to build God's garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction."

The former Hitler Youth member also extended his good wishes to "my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage" as well as to "all men and women of today, to believers and non-believers alike".

But it has not taken long for one of the darkest legacies of John Paul II's reign to come back to haunt the new pope. As reported in The Independent on Friday, a Mexican professor who along with eight other men has alleged that a priest who was a close friend of the late pope, Fr Marcial Maciel, sexually abused him when he was a child, claimed that Cardinal Ratzinger had failed for seven years to investigate the charges. Professor Jose Barba believes that when Cardinal Ratzinger finally opened an inquiry, last December, it was in order to remove possible controversy from his attempt to become Pope.

Fr Maciel retired in January as leader of the ultraconservative order he founded, the Legionaries of Christ. But yesterday an authority on the paedophilia scandal in the United States, Jason Berry, saw a glimmer of hope in Cardinal Ratzinger's belated decision to act. "As a theologian of fundamentalist convictions," Berry wrote in The New York Times, "[Cardinal Ratzinger] may have felt he had to confront a crisis tearing at the central nervous system of the church." Berry cited a sermon the cardinal gave on Good Friday, eight days before John Paul II's death, in which he said: "How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [God]."

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