VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI (search) thanked journalists Saturday for their coverage during the "historically important" events during the papal transition, urged them to remember their ethical responsibilities and said he hoped to continue his predecessor's tradition of openness with the media.
The meeting with hundreds of journalists in a Vatican (search) auditorium was Benedict's first public audience since his Tuesday election as head of the Catholic Church.
The session lasted about 15 minutes, and Benedict did not take questions or meet individual reporters, in contrast to his predecessor Pope John Paul II (search), who fielded questions for 40 minutes after reading a prepared speech.
"I hope to follow this dialogue with you, and I share, as Pope John Paul II observed concerning the faith, the development of social communications," the pontiff told more than 1,000 members of the media and pilgrims who assembled for his first appearance in the vast Vatican hall used for weekly general audiences.
Recalling that John Paul had been "a great artisan" of an "open and sincere" dialogue with the media that was started by the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, Benedict said the media in the modern age has the capacity to reach "the whole of humanity."
"Thanks to all of you, these historically important ecclesial events have had worldwide coverage. I know how hard you have worked, far away from your homes and families for long hours and in sometimes difficult conditions. I am aware of this dedication with which you have accomplished this demanding task," he said.
At the same time, he said, he could not ignore the need for "clear references of the ethical responsibilities" of the media, emphasizing the need for a "sincere search for the truth and the safeguarding of the centrality and the dignity of the person."
He read portions of his speech in Italian, English, French and his native German, joking that "since we are in Rome" he had to return to Italian.
Vatican officials had said in recent days that Benedict likely would not take questions and that the meeting was more an audience to greet journalists than a press conference.
"You could say that thanks to your work for so many weeks, the attention of the whole world has been fixed on the basilica, on St. Peter's Square, and on the Apostolic Palace, inside of which my predecessor, the unforgettable John Paul II, serenely ended his earthly existence," the pope said.
Before his remarks, the pope chuckled during a nearly one-minute ovation.
The 78-year-old Benedict is quickly setting the personal tone of his reign — and it's not the distant and strident papacy that many feared because of his long role as the church's watchdog of theology.
An open-air Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sunday is expected to draw half a million faithful and hundreds of dignitaries to Rome. The decision for an outdoor Mass — rather than one in St. Peter's Basilica — shows Benedict favors the populist touch of recent popes who have made the same choice.
There were other signs the world is warming swiftly to the German-born pope: a Polish archbishop said Benedict would be invited to his predecessor's homeland in August, and the pope's Vatican e-mail address received more than 56,000 messages in the first two days.
Italian officials are putting tight security in place for the Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sunday, where dignitaries are expected to include German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder; Prince Albert II of Monaco and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the U.S. president's brother.
Also due to attend are the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; 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.
Known as the Ceremony of Investiture, it will celebrated by the senior cardinal deacon, Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, the Chilean who proclaimed Benedict's name to the world as the 265th pontiff. During the Mass, Benedict will receive his papal Fisherman's Ring as well as the pallium — a narrow stole of white wool embroidered with five red silk crosses — which symbolizes his pastoral authority.
Air space within an five-mile radius will be closed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, and Rome's second airport, Ciampino, will be shut down.
Italian civil protection officials estimate that about 100,000 people from Benedict's native Germany will flock to Rome. Italy will provide German-speaking volunteers from Italy's bilingual Alpine regions to help them.
On Monday, Benedict is scheduled to hold talks with Chrisostomos. Healing the nearly 1,000-year-old rift between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity was a major goal of the late pope.
Later Monday, 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.
One decision by the pope will be closely watched: whom he picks as his successor to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"Already Benedict XVI has become ... an 'open door' pope, cordial and spontaneous," said Donatella Pacelli, a Rome sociologist who studies Catholic issues.
London-based religious commentator Peter Stanford recalled the pope's intellectual grounding as a forward-looking theologian in the 1960s who — like John Paul — turned increasingly conservative against secular trends.
"It would be a mistake to see (Benedict) as simply an efficient, ultra-loyal bureaucrat carrying out another man's orders," he wrote.