VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI (search) formally began his stewardship of the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday, reaching out to Jews, other Christians and "nonbelievers alike" and asking for prayers from the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and dignitaries gathered in St. Peter's Square as he assumed "this enormous task."
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (search), who was known as the enforcer of church orthodoxy, said in his installation homily that as pope he would listen to the will of God in governing the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.
"My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him so that He himself will lead the church at this hour of our history," he said in his homily, read in Italian.
Wearing golden vestments and clutching his pastoral staff, Benedict began the ceremony by walking into the area under St. Peter's Basilica (search) where St. Peter is believed to be buried, paying homage to the first pope and blessing the tomb with incense as a choir chanted.
At the end of the Mass, he blessed the crowd standing and waving as he rode in a white, open-topped jeep-like vehicle surrounded by security guards. The faithful reached out to him and snapped his picture. The new "popemobile" was not surrounded by the bulletproof glass installed around the vehicle used by John Paul after he was shot in 1981.
In one of the most symbolic moments of the two-hour Mass, Benedict was given his Fisherman's Ring and a woolen pallium, or shawl — both symbols of his papal authority. The ring is emblazoned with an image of Peter casting his fishing nets and was traditionally used to seal apostolic letters.
The pallium — a narrow shawl of white lamb and sheep's wool embroidered with five silk crosses — symbolizes the pope's role as a shepherd taking care of his flock. The pallium was pierced by three golden pins to symbolize the nails driven into the cross on which Christ was crucified, and the red color of the crosses is for Christ's blood.
Benedict, looking tired and coughing several times, was interrupted by applause several times during his homily, particularly when he invoked his predecessor, John Paul II.
"And now at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity," he said.
He quoted John Paul's inaugural homily in 1978, in which the late pope said: "Do not be afraid!"
In his homily, Benedict said he wanted to reach out to other Christians, delivering "special greetings" to them as well as to Jews "to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage."
"Finally, like a wave gathering force, my thoughts go out to all men and women of today, to believers and nonbelievers alike," he said.
In one of his first acts, Benedict had invited Rome's chief rabbi to the installation ceremony. The rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, could not attend because of the Passover holiday which began Saturday.
Benedict's effort to reach out to the Jews was seen as significant because of his own past. He has acknowledged being a member of Hitler Youth as a teenager and was drafted to serve in the German army.
The Vatican said 350,000 people were in and around St. Peter's Square, and civil protection forces said at least 50,000 more were watching the Mass on giant television screens set up nearby. That figure was similar to the number of people who turned out for John Paul's April 8 funeral, although a total of 3 million people flocked to Rome in the days surrounding his death and the funeral Mass.
Many people in the crowd Sunday toted banners and flags — including from Benedict's native Germany — even as they kept John Paul in the back of their minds.
"We don't know much about him, but he seems good," said Enrico Protti, an artisan from Asti, near the northern city of Turin, who drove with his wife and two daughters to Rome for the Mass. "If we can, we'll bring a flower also to (the tomb of) John Paul."
Along with an estimated 100,000 pilgrims from the pope's native Germany, political and ceremonial dignitaries from more than 131 countries attended, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Benedict's brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, had a prominent seat on the basilica esplanade.
Queen Sofia of Spain, wearing a white dress and white lace veil, mingled with black-clad dignitaries on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica as they waited for the start of the Mass.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; Metropolitan Chrisostomos, a top envoy for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Christian Orthodox; and a senior representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Kirill, also were on the list of those attending.
Few top Islamic leaders were on hand.
Benedict sat on his gilded throne as he greeted dignitaries after the Mass, chatting at some length with each one as the rest waited in a long line inside the basilica. He was to meet Monday with the non-Catholic religious leaders who attended the ceremony.
Italian authorities had tight security in place. Boats patrolled the Tiber River, a no-fly zone was imposed within a five-mile radius of the Vatican for most of Sunday, and Italian forces had anti-missile systems in place and warplanes on patrol alongside NATO surveillance aircraft. Some 10,000 police were deployed.
The Ceremony of Investiture was co-celebrated by the senior cardinal deacon, Jorge Medina Estevez, the Chilean who proclaimed Benedict's name to the world from the basilica balcony last Tuesday. After Benedict was presented with the ring and pallium, the cardinal said in Latin:
"May the spirit of truth, which precedes from the Father, grant abundant inspiration and discernment to your ministry to confirm brothers in the unity of faith," he said.
Then 12 people — symbolizing Christ's 12 disciples — lined up and pledged obedience to Benedict, kneeling before him and kissing his golden ring. Benedict greeted each one, chatting with each for a few seconds.
The Mass brought Benedict back to the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, where he gave a moving funeral homily for the late pope that may have helped persuade fellow cardinals to choose Joseph Ratzinger as the new pontiff Tuesday.
Even before his official installation as pope, Benedict was framing a papacy meant to dispel his widespread image as the dour guardian of Roman Catholic doctrine, a post he held for 24 years under John Paul.
He has promised to seek greater ties with all Christians and open "sincere dialogue" with other faiths. Already, those pledges and his relaxed manner have softened the rigid reputation.