VATICAN CITY - "The church is alive!" Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed to a cheering crowd of 350,000 at his inaugural Mass. "And the church is young!"
The 78-year-old man known until Tuesday as the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was interrupted 33 times by applause and cheers as he preached a 35-minute homily during the Mass to formally invest him with the papacy, known as the Ceremony of Investiture. He began and ended with references to the late Pope John Paul II, but he preached on what it means to follow Jesus and Peter as a shepherd and as a fisherman.
As the formidable head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981, Cardinal Ratzinger was chiefly known for calling offending theologians on the carpet.
He had referred to other faiths in less than flattering terms - he once called Buddhism a form of "auto-erotic spirituality" - and was perceived as less enthusiastic than John Paul II about working toward unity with other Christians.
A very different Benedict emerged yesterday.
"And now, at this moment, 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, as the throngs applauded in a show of support.
"I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone. All the saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me, and to carry me. And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, your love, your faith, and your hope accompany me. Indeed, the communion of saints consists not only of the great men and women who went before us and whose names we know. All of us belong to the communion of saints who have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
David Gibson, author of The Coming Catholic Church who is now writing a book about Benedict XVI, said those comments were made for a specific purpose.
"This was a theologian becoming a pastor. That is how he redefined himself," Mr. Gibson said.
Cardinal Ratzinger had drawn fire in the past for referring to Protestant bodies as "ecclesial communities" rather than churches.
Yesterday he avoided theological land mines by greeting "all those who have been reborn in the sacrament of Baptism but are not yet in full communion with us."
For the first time since the Church of England split from Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was in attendance.
Passover observances kept Jewish guests away. But Pope Benedict greeted, "you, my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God's irrevocable promises."
The last two words signal that he shares John Paul's conviction that the Jewish covenant with God remains intact.
"Finally, like a wave gathering force, my thoughts go out to all men and women of today, to believers and nonbelievers alike," Pope Benedict said.
In what may become the signature passage, he spoke of witnessing the great crowds, especially of young people, who came to express their love for 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. And the church is young," he said, to applause and cheers.
The crowd was enormous, though not so overwhelming as for John Paul's funeral. The wide avenue leading to St. Peter's was filled all the way to the Tiber River.
But the side streets that had also overflowed for the funeral were deserted.
Martha Pettenella, a teacher, had come from Milan with her friends, who perched on camp seats in the square.
"We are very happy about this Pope. We love John Paul II, and we love this Pope because we feel he is a strong link with John Paul II. Personally, I think he has a great faith, and he is able to give reasons for the Catholic Christian faith," she said.
"John Paul II was clear about what faith is, but this Pope will give us the way to make the encounter with Christ our method of life."
Andrea Schunk had purchased the traditional Bavarian dress and apron she wore just for this Mass, as a sign of love and respect from the Pope's native southern Germany.
An administrative employee of the Archdiocese of Munich, she worked for Cardinal Ratzinger when he was archbishop there in the 1970s.
"We are proud that he is in Rome, that he is Pope," she said.
"He is a good man for us."
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ann Rodgers is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
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"The church is alive!" Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed to a cheering crowd of 350,000 at his inaugural Mass. "And the church is young!"