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World Leaders Welcome Pontiff

From Notre Dame in Paris to the Basilica of Guadalupe (search) in Mexico City, cathedral bells tolled and prayers were offered Tuesday to celebrate the election of Pope Benedict XVI (search).

Roman Catholics and political and religious leaders around the world embraced the staunchly conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as successor to the hugely popular Pope John Paul II (search). Many watched live television broadcasts of the white smoke that puffed from a Vatican chimney to tell the world a new pontiff had been chosen.

But while some praised Ratzinger as a fitting choice to consolidate and build on John Paul's work, others saw him as too hard-line to lead the church in the 21st century.

Jewish and Muslim leaders said they were hopeful that Ratzinger, who chose the name Benedict XVI, would continue his predecessor's effort to reach out to those from other faiths.

At St. Michael Seminary in Traunstein, Germany, which Ratzinger attended as a child, a roomful of boys jumped up and cheered at the news.

"It's fantastic that it's Cardinal Ratzinger," said Lorenz Gradl, 16, who was confirmed by Ratzinger in 2003.

"It's a very good choice," agreed Alois Kansky, priest at the St. Anthony church in downtown Prague, Czech Republic, as he rang the bells to honor the new pontiff.

President Bush said the new pope was a "man of great wisdom and knowledge ... a man who serves the Lord."

He said he'd been touched by the homily Ratzinger gave at John Paul's funeral.

But some worried about the new pope's deep conservatism, saying he was the wrong choice to lead the church as it grapples with a host of modern problems. Divisions between the wealthy north and the poor south, priest sex-abuse scandals, a chronic shortage of clergy in Western nations and the stream of Catholics leaving the church are among the issues confronting Benedict XVI.

"The election signalizes continuity," said Hans Peter Hurkal, chairman of the Austrian branch of We are the Church, a group that promotes reform within the church.

"But if Pope Benedict XVI refuses to reform, the church's descent will go faster," he said. "There is a clear demand for reforms."

"I would have liked a more liberal man," said Felix Bared, 70, a businessman in San Juan, Puerto Rico, who said he attends Mass every week. "You have to change with the times. He is probably a very holy man but he is too attached to the doctrine. I would have liked a pope from the Third World."

But Luz Maria Casillas, 59, a retired teacher visiting Mexico City's main cathedral, was pleased. "Since I'm conservative, I like him a lot," she said.

She noted that Ratzinger was close to John Paul, but wasn't sure whether he would be as popular. "It's difficult. Here in Mexico he [John Paul] was completely adored," she said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said he hoped ties between his country and the Vatican would continue to warm, and alluded to Ratzinger's recollection that he was forced to join the Nazi youth movement.

"We are sure that considering the background of this new pope he, like his predecessor, will be a strong voice against anti-Semitism in all its forms," Shalom said.

Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, also offered good wishes, saying Benedict XVI "can rest assured about the Muslim world's fullest support on social, moral and political issues common between us."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, praised Ratzinger as "a theologian of great stature" and wished him "every blessing" in his work.

The leader of Ireland's 4 million Roman Catholics, Archbishop Sean Brady, urged the faithful to pray for their new leader.

"The election of our new pope is not only a source of great joy and hope for Catholics throughout the world, it is also an important event for the whole human family," he said.

In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he looked forward to working with the new pope on aiding Africa and encouraging economic development. Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip sent their good wishes to Rome.

Also among those sending congratulations was Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who clashed with John Paul by pushing to legalize gay marriage and ease laws on abortion and divorce.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wished the pope "every strength and courage as he takes on his formidable responsibilities."