VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After celebrating Mass with the cardinals who elected him, Pope Benedict XVI pledged that he would lead the Church on the path of unity, dialogue and evangelization.
"I turn to everyone with simplicity and affection, to assure them that the Church wants to continue to build an open and sincere dialogue with them, in the search of the true good of man and society," he said at the end of a liturgy in the Sistine Chapel April 20.
Dressed in light gold vestments, the pope read his four-page Latin message in a clear and forceful voice, paying tribute to Pope John Paul II and outlining the priorities of his own pontificate.
Pope Benedict said that, like his predecessor, he considered the Second Vatican Council the compass for the modern Church. In particular, he stressed his commitment to ecumenism and dialogue and said he was aware that "concrete gestures" were sometimes needed to promote breaking through old antagonisms.
At the same time, he said the chief priority for the modern Church is to announce Christ to the world.
"The Church today has to renew its awareness of the task of re-proposing to the world the voice of the one who said: 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,'" he said.
"As he begins his ministry, the new pope knows that his task is to make the light of Christ shine before the men and women of today: not his own light, but that of Christ," he said.
The white-haired pope faced 114 cardinals seated at the same long tables used in the papal election and spoke from a chair beneath Michelangelo's fresco of the "Last Judgment."
The 9 a.m. liturgy was broadcast live on giant TV screens in a virtually empty St. Peter's Square. The evening before, some 100,000 people had gathered for the dramatic announcement of Pope Benedict's election and had cheered him at his first public appearance.
The pope said he had been completely surprised at his election, which came on the fourth ballot of the conclave. He said he began his papacy with two emotions: a sense of "inadequacy" and the confidence that God would help him.
As head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation since 1981, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a controversial figure for many in the Church because of his strong line against dissent, his disciplining of theologians and his criticism of some of the ways Vatican II has been implemented.
In his first major talk as pope, he went out of his way to say he would proceed along the lines taken by his predecessor.
"I want to forcefully affirm the strong desire to continue in the task of implementing the Second Vatican Council," he said.
He said Vatican II's documents were especially relevant to the modern Church and today's globalized society and that the council's "authoritative" rereading of the Gospel would guide the Church in the third millennium.
Pope Benedict also stressed the need for close unity between the pope and the world's bishops. This collegial communion, he said, favors "unity in the faith, on which depends in large measure the effectiveness of the Church's evangelizing efforts in the modern world."
He asked bishops to accompany him "with prayers and with advice, so that I may truly be the 'servant of the servants of God.'"
Pope Benedict pledged to make the search for Christian unity a special priority. He called ecumenism a "compelling duty" and said he would "spare no energy" in trying to bring Christian Churches together.
He said ecumenism must go beyond theological dialogue and probe the historical motives for the divisions among Christians.
"What is most needed is that 'purification of memory' so often mentioned by John Paul II, which is the only thing that can lead souls to welcome the full truth of Christ," he said.
Acknowledging his predecessor's special relationship with young people, the new pope pledged that the Church would continue to dialogue with them.
He said he intended to travel in August to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day celebrations -- a tradition begun by Pope John Paul.
Pope Benedict underlined the importance of the current eucharistic year, also an initiative of the late pope, saying the Eucharist would be at the center of the Cologne festivities and of the Synod of Bishops in October.
He asked all the faithful to reflect on the centrality of the Eucharist. Many other things -- including Church unity, evangelization and charity toward all, especially the poor -- depend on it, he said.
The new pope recalled Pope John Paul with great affection and said he felt encouraged by the late pontiff as he began his own papacy.
"I seem to feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and listen to his words, addressed particularly to me in this moment: 'Do not be afraid!'" he said.
Pope Benedict said the death and funeral of Pope John Paul represented "an extraordinary time of grace for the whole world." He said it was a moment in which one could feel "the power of God who, through his Church, wants to form a great family of all peoples."
In his promise to keep dialogue open, the new pope mentioned the followers of other religions and people who are "simply searching for an answer to the fundamental questions of existence and have not found it yet."
He said he made this overture with the awareness that the Church's mission is to bring the light of Christ to all peoples.
The pope spoke fleetingly about the Church's continued commitment to peace and justice issues. He said he would continue the dialogue of his predecessors with "the various civilizations," convinced that the conditions for a better future in the world depend on mutual understanding.
Pope Benedict told the cardinals he felt an "enormous weight of responsibility" as the new pontiff, but was certain of divine assistance.
"By choosing me as the bishop of Rome, the Lord wanted me as his vicar, he wanted me to be the rock on which everyone can lean with assurance," he said.
"I ask him to supplement my scarce resources, so that I may be a courageous and faithful pastor of his flock, always obedient to the inspirations of his Spirit," he said.
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