VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI (search) held his first working meeting with the College of Cardinals on Friday as Vatican and Rome authorities began gearing up for another influx of dignitaries and faithful for a Sunday inauguration expected to draw half a million people.
Italian civil protection officials estimate about 100,000 people from Benedict's native Germany will travel to Rome for the ceremony, and Rome was bringing in volunteers from Italy's German-speaking north to help. Monday is a national holiday, and Italians are expected to converge on the Eternal City (search) to take advantage of the long weekend.
A day after confirming the entire Vatican hierarchy in a seamless transition of church leadership, Benedict met the College of Cardinals for the first working session, taking time to greet each cardinal and exchange a few words.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's No. 2 official, made introductory remarks inside the marbled and frescoed Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace as Benedict, dressed in white and sitting on a gilded throne, listened and smiled. The other cardinals sat around him, applauding as Sodano and Benedict embraced.
Sitting in the hall where Pope John Paul II (search) lay in state following his April 2 death, Benedict thanked the cardinals for their support and faith in electing him the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
"It's an act of faith that constitutes encouragement as I undertake this new mission with more serenity, because I am able to count on your generous collaboration in addition to the indispensable help of God," he said.
After his remarks, cardinals lined up to greet him and kneel before him as he sat in his chair. Benedict stood to embrace elderly cardinals who have trouble walking, including American Cardinal William Baum, as well as Polish Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, who is confined to a wheelchair.
In his three days as pope, Benedict has been trying to ensure continuity in church leadership while brightening his austere image.
On Thursday, he greeted the faithful on the streets, waving and smiling at crowds gathered along the short stretch between the Vatican gates and his old apartment, where he spent some time in the afternoon.
"Viva il papa!" some shouted.
Benedict's schedule also shows hints of the openness and symbolic gestures that were at the heart of John Paul's reign. He is to meet Saturday with journalists, something he regularly did as a cardinal.
An outdoor Mass to formally take the papal throne is scheduled for Sunday. Choosing an open-air installation over an indoor ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica shows Benedict favors the populist touch of recent popes, who have made the same choice.
Italian civil protection chief Guido Bertolaso told reporters Thursday that the pope likely would mingle with the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square. On his installation day, John Paul walked up to the barrier holding back the faithful, greeting them and kissing babies handed to him.
During the Mass, Benedict will be given his Fisherman's Ring as well as the pallium — a narrow stole of white wool embroidered with six black silk crosses — which symbolizes his pastoral authority.
The Ceremony of Investiture (search), as it is called, will be celebrated by the senior cardinal deacon, Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, the Chilean who on Tuesday proclaimed Benedict's name to the world from the basilica balcony.
The Mass is expected to draw world leaders, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, as well as religious leaders including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Bertolaso said there would be a few dozen fewer delegations compared to John Paul's funeral, and said Rome was gearing up for about 500,000 people.
Air space within a five-mile radius will be closed Sunday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (2 a.m. EDT and 10 a.m. EDT), and Italy's second airport, Ciampino, will be shut down starting midday Saturday until Sunday afternoon.
Officials are planning to set up giant screens in the Vatican area to allow pilgrims who cannot get into the square to follow the ceremony. The city also is preparing water supplies, medical assistance and bus shuttles to and from Rome's Termini station. Parking lots are being readied on the outskirts of the city.
In another sign Benedict intends to follow John Paul in reaching out to other religions, the new pope invited the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo di Segni, to the installation Mass. The rabbi will not be able to attend because Sunday is the first day of Passover, but he was pleased to be asked, said Riccardo Pacifici, a spokesman for Rome's Jewish community.
Benedict also has made healing the 1,000-year-old schism with the Orthodox church a priority. The head of the church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, will not attend but was to be represented by Chrisostomos, Metropolitan of Ephesus, at the ceremony, the Orthodox patriarchate in Istanbul said Friday.
On Monday, Chrisostomos will meet the pope "to exchange views on world affairs and issues common to both churches," the patriarchate said.
On Monday evening, Benedict plans to visit the Rome basilica built over the tomb of St. Paul, who helped bring Christianity to regions that now are split by the Catholic-Orthodox divide.
In the first days of his papacy, the 78-year-old Benedict has projected two clear styles.
One was expected: the confident and well-prepared Vatican insider who was one of John Paul's closest advisers for more than two decades. There were no changes in any major Vatican office all the way up to Sodano. The only question remains is who will fill the powerful job that the new pope held since 1981: overseeing church doctrine and punishing those who stray.
The second image emerging — a humble and welcoming pastor — has caught many off guard.