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New Pope Pledges to Work For Christian Unity


Pope Benedict XVI celebrating mass
Pope Benedict XVI says he will work to unify all Christians, reach out to other religions and be open to dialogue within his own Roman Catholic church. The new pontiff is seeking to address concerns aroused by his past role as the Vatican's chief enforcer of Catholic doctrine and his dismissal of other Christian denominations as not being true religions.

Speaking in the Sistine Chapel to the cardinals who elected him, the new pope tried to allay fears that his papacy will turn its back on other faiths and cultures.

The pope spoke in Latin, and his speech was translated into English by Vatican Radio.

Pope Benedict says the Roman Catholic Church will spare no effort to continue the dialogue with other faiths and cultures that was initiated by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

"This is its ambition," said Benedict XVI. "This is its compelling obligation. It is conscious that it is not enough just to show good intentions, good sentiments. There must be concrete gestures."

The pope also says he was surprised by his election.

"I feel an inadequacy and an inner disquiet because of the responsibility that has been entrusted to me," he said. "And, on the other hand, I feel lively in me a profound gratitude towards God."

Pope Benedict XVI, who was his predecessor's closest advisor on matters of Catholic doctrine, says he feels that John Paul will guide him as he begins his own pontificate.

"I seem to feel that his strong hand is holding on to mine," said Pope Benedict XVI. "I seem to see his smiling eyes and to hear his words, turned at this moment particularly to me, addressed particularly to me: 'Do not be afraid'."

The pope also says he supports reforms adopted 40-years ago by the Second Vatican Council, which modernized many aspects of Catholic life. Pope John Paul and the former Cardinal Ratzinger cracked down on what they saw as excesses spawned by the Council's changes, like calls in North America and Western Europe for the church to allow married men and women to become priests. The new pope is not expected to diverge from that line.

American cardinals called on reporters to withhold judgment on Pope Benedict. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles says there are more sides to the new pontiff than his previous role as the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog.

"I would invite people to be very much hopeful for the future that he will bring us because he is a very spiritual man, a very pastoral man," said Cardinal Mahony. "While he is a brilliant theologian, he is also a great pastor, and I think people are going to be very pleased with his pastoral leadership."

Cardinal Mahony says the new pope faces two major challenges. One is the rise in the United States and Europe of moral relativism, which contrasts with Catholic teaching that there are firm principles and values based on the Christian gospels.

The other, he says, is dealing with the gap between the spiritual poverty of the northern hemisphere and the material poverty of the southern hemisphere.

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