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Pope Wants to Heal Catholic-Orthodox Rift During his Papacy

Pope Benedict XVI gives his blessing as he celebrates a mass in Bari
Pope Benedict says he wants to heal the rift with the Orthodox Church during his papacy. He spoke to hundreds-of-thousands of people attending a mass in the southern Italian city of Bari during his first pilgrimage away from the Vatican since he was elected less than two months ago.

Security was tight in the southern Italian seaside city, as the pope arrived by helicopter. He was welcomed by cheering pilgrims shouting out, "Benedict" in the Italian, Benedetto.

The pope waved to the crowd from his white pope mobile, as he was taken to the large area near the sea where he presided over mass. Police patrolled the streets and coastal waters.

Hundreds-of-thousands of people gathered from early in the morning to take part in the pope's open-air mass, which closed a week-long Catholic congress on the Eucharist.

Bari is often referred to as a bridge between East and West. Pope Benedict has said from the start of his papacy that he wants to further dialogue among different Christian faiths. He said it again in this city, which has close ties to the Orthodox Church.

Amid the applause, the pope said: "Right here in Bari, happy Barri, city that is home to the bones of Saint Nicholas and land of meeting and dialogue with our Christian brothers from the East, I want to repeat my willingness to assume, as a fundamental commitment, working to reconstitute the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ, with all my energy."

The pope added that words are not enough, and concrete gestures are needed to reach out to the Orthodox.

The visit to Bari was Pope Benedict's first pilgrimage away from the Vatican, and he only spent a few hours away from home.

Since his election on April 19, 78-year-old Pope Benedict has indicated that, like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, he will travel, although many Vatican-watchers believe not as much. Pope Benedict has said he will travel to his native Germany this August to celebrate World Youth Day in Cologne.