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In first meeting, pope embraces media but reminds reporters of `ethical responsibilities'

VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday thanked the news media for its coverage of the papal transition and said he'd continue Pope John Paul II's dialogue with the media.

The Pope acknowledged the modern media's ability to reach "the whole of humanity" and underscored what he called journalists' "ethical responsibilities" as part of a "sincere search for the truth and the safeguarding of the centrality and the dignity of the person."

"Thanks to all of you, these historically important ecclesial events have had worldwide coverage. I know how hard you have worked, far away from your homes and families, for long hours and in sometimes difficult conditions," the new pope said.

"In my own name, and especially on behalf of Catholics living far from Rome who were able to participate in these stirring moments for our faith as they were taking place, I thank you for all you have done," said the pontiff, who until a few days ago was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The Pope met with reporters in Pope Paul VI Hall for about 15 minutes and didn't take questions, unlike John Paul II, whose first news conference lasted 40 minutes. Benedict spoke in Italian, English, French and in his native German, but to the bewilderment of journalists from Latin America, where most of the world's billion Catholics live, he said nothing in Spanish.

Although the pontiff is said to be skilled in 10 languages, the absence of any comments in Spanish perplexed some in the crowd of more than 1,000 reporters and photographers and several hundred pilgrims and Vatican staffers who were granted access to a modern amphitheater next to St. Peter's Basilica.

"For us, it was a mistake," said Maria Antonieta Flores, a journalist with Il Publico in Guadalajara, Mexico. "We wanted him to speak in Spanish."

After his address, young people started a rhythmic chant of "Vieni qui" (vyen-ee kwee) or "Come here," in Italian. The pope remained on the stage while two dozen priests and archbishops greeted him at his chair before he left to applause.

On Sunday, a worldwide television audience, plus an estimated 500,000 pilgrims, are expected to watch Pope Benedict's ceremony of investiture in St. Peter's Square to commence his reign. During the outdoor mass, Benedict will put on the papal Fisherman's Ring, a sign of his link to the apostle St. Peter, and don the pallium, a stole with six black silk crosses.

More than 26 years ago, on the day before Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was formally inaugurated as Pope John Paul II, he held a similar news conference in the Apostolic Palace. John Paul came into the audience to shake hands and take reporters' questions, recalled Victor Simpson, now the Vatican bureau chief for the Associated Press, who was there in 1978.

Orazio Petrosillo, the Vatican writer for the Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero, who covered the media debuts of both popes, said Saturday that Benedict XVI is more reserved than his predecessor.

"He's not going to kiss babies, little girls and little boys like John Paul II," said Petrosillo. "He's shy. It's a trait that sometimes inhibits him."

But Petrosillo said the Vatican press corps has always been treated well by Ratzinger during the 24 years he served as the Vatican's chief enforcer of Catholic teaching as director of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"He answered every question and was very friendly, very open. ... He always gave us serious, complete answers," Petrosillo said.

Archbishop John Foley, the American prelate who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council of Social Communications, said the size of Saturday's crowd made it logistically difficult to do an American-style news conference.

"How could he take questions from a crowd of 6,000 people?" said Foley, referring to the capacity of the hall, which was about half full. "That's not a conference. That's a mob."

The pope emerged promptly at 11 a.m. to sustained applause, holding out his hands in greeting. Some young people started rhythmically and shouting his name in Italian, pausing at each syllable—"Ben-eh-det-to"—and clapping. The pope raised his hand in a signal to stop and, when that didn't work, he silenced the crowd by starting to say the Sign of the Cross.

In part of his message, he described how news coverage focused "the attention of the whole world ... on the basilica, on St. Peter's Square and on the Apostolic Palace, inside of which my predecessor, the unforgettable John Paul II, serenely ended his earthly existence."

Petrosillo, the Italian journalist, said Ratzinger may have been "shy or insecure" about his Spanish, or else Vatican staffers preparing for the event "made a grave error" in excluding Spanish.

"The Latin world is the most faithful, and the pope didn't speak Spanish," said Marcos Parraga, a journalist from Ecuador with Univision.

The Rev. Guillermo Marco, a spokesman for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, also was at the event. Marco said he was told by Archbishop Foley that, although "it would have been nice" for Benedict to speak in Spanish, staffers from the Vatican Secretary of State thought "the Spanish-speaking world would understand the Italian" version.

"Most of the Catholics are in Latin America," Marco said. "In the first opportunity tomorrow, I hope he will make a greeting in Spanish."


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Pope Benedict

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