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Pope Benedict XVI declares `the church is alive'

VATICAN CITY—As he formally assumed the helm of the Roman Catholic Church Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI continued to set a tone of humility, inclusion, outreach and optimism, using language that seemed designed to reassure those concerned about his 24-year-record of squashing dissent.

"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, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him so that He himself will lead the church at this hour of our history," the pope said in his coronation homily, which he read in Italian as tens of thousands of people watched and listened in St. Peter's Square.

The ceremony, known as a mass of investiture, was seen by millions of television viewers around the world and attended by dozens of foreign dignitaries, including the Queen of Spain, the German chancellor and President Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a convert to Roman Catholicism.

The outdoor mass was the last major public event in the first papal transition in a generation, a three-week period that's cast an unprecedented global spotlight on the Roman Catholic Church and its rituals, its debates, its history and its hopes.

For many Catholics wondering how their new pope will approach his job, Benedict's words were as important as the majesty of the two-and-a-half hour service.

As the Vatican's chief theological enforcer, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger staked out conservative positions on the role of women, married priests, homosexuality and the validity of other faiths. He said the church must be firm in enforcing its teachings, even if some of them drive away believers. He disciplined dozens of theologians and suggested that politicians who support abortion rights should be denied communion.

As he did in his Sistine Chapel homily the day after he was elected and in his remarks Saturday to an audience that included 1,000 journalists, however, Benedict sought to reach out on Sunday. He delivered "special greetings" to Christians of other denominations, and also to Jews, "to whom," he said, "we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage."

"Finally, like a wave gathering force, my thoughts go out to all men and women of today, to believers and nonbelievers alike," he said.

Benedict had invited Rome's chief rabbi to the installation ceremony, but the rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, couldn't attend because of the Passover holiday that began Saturday.

The pope also wondered aloud how he'd bear the weight of leading the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, and he struck an optimistic tone about a church that many believe is in crisis in some areas of the world.

"... Weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this? How will I be able to do it?" he asked. The audience answered with an ovation.

"... I am not alone," Benedict continued. "And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, you love, your faith, and your hope accompany me."

The Rev. Joseph Mwongela, 37, a Kenyan priest studying in Rome, said he was touched by Benedict's humility.

"There have been fears about him because of his job of defending the faith," Mwongela said. "But now he's showing his side of being the good pastor, of being the good shepherd. That was our hope."

Amid priest shortages and plummeting church attendance in Europe, Benedict evoked the image of the millions of people, many of them under 30, who flocked to Rome to pay their last respects to Pope John Paul II.

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

Later he quoted John Paul II's inaugural homily in 1978, in which the late pope said: "Do not be afraid!"

Tanya Doherty, 29, a lawyer from Belfast, Northern Ireland, said she wants the new pope to continue his predecessor's work, but also to show some flexibility.

"You can't be too liberal. You have to uphold the morals," said Doherty. "If that's eroded, there's nothing."

One of the key moments came when Benedict, 78, was given his Fisherman's Ring and a woolen pallium, a white shawl with red crosses—two historic symbols of papal authority.

Traditionally used to seal letters and decrees, the gold ring is emblazoned with an image of St. Peter casting his fishing nets. The pallium, pierced by three gold pins that symbolize the nails of the cross, is meant to reinforce the pope's role as shepherd of his flock.

After receiving those, Benedict, seated on a throne, greeted a procession of people who symbolized the roles in which Catholics can serve the faith and the pope. Three cardinals approached him, followed by a bishop, a diocesan priest, a deacon, a religious order priest, a nun and a Korean married couple and their son.

Then came a young woman from Sri Lanka and a young man from the Congo who had both recently joined the church and received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

A choir sang "Tu es Petrus," a chant in Latin derived from the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus tells Peter, "Upon this rock, I shall build my church."

After the pope's homily, the prayers of the faithful were recited in German, French, Arabic, Chinese and Portuguese. Laypeople from Hungary, Croatia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Italy, China and Peru brought up to the altar the offertory bread and wine for the sacrament of the Eucharist.

The crowd Sunday was estimated at 350,000, but it didn't seem as large or as boisterous as the river of humanity that descended on the Vatican for John Paul II's funeral. Many German flags were held aloft—national standards, city flags, German school insignias, and the embroidered green velvet banner of the Sportsmen Shooting Club from Pentling, in Bavaria, near where the former Joseph Ratzinger grew up.

At the end of the mass, Benedict was transported through the square while standing in an open-topped white "Popemobile," though it was not covered in bullet-resistant glass like the one made famous by John Paul II after he was shot in 1981.

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

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050420 Holy See seal

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

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