VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI (search) ordained 21 new priests for Rome on Sunday, but with the number of recruits for the clergy falling in western Europe, many of the men he ordained in St. Peter's Basilica (search) came from Latin America and Africa.
Before the 21 men came forward individually to kneel before Benedict and put their hands into his as they pledged loyalty to him, the pontiff delivered a homily that sounded like a pep talk.
"All of us are part of the network of obedience to the word of Christ," Benedict said. The church's mission "must continuously put us into motion, make us restless, to bring to those who suffer, to those who are in doubt, and even to those who are reluctant, the joy of Christ."
Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II (search), Benedict — also rigorously conservative — has dedicated his new papacy to spreading the Gospel worldwide and shoring up flagging faith among Roman Catholics.
The church "must open up the frontiers between peoples and break down barriers between classes and races," Benedict said, without specifying any group.
But missionary zeal has created tensions among Christians, especially in the former communist-led countries of Eastern Europe, where Orthodox leaders have accused the Vatican (search) of poaching for converts.
The Vatican insists it is only looking after its flock in that part of the world, and Benedict made no mention of those tensions, which prevented John Paul from making a pilgrimage to Russia.
Instead, Benedict insisted that priests, by overcoming evil with pardon, could help "build peace."
The pontiff serves also as bishop of Rome, and the new priests were from the Rome diocese.
There is a shortage of priests in much of western Europe. For example, while Italians are predominantly Roman Catholic, many of them worship in churches where Sunday Mass is celebrated by Asian, African or Latin American priests.
While the number of Catholics jumped to some 1.1 billion around the globe during John Paul's 26-year papacy, the number of new priests did not keep pace.
In the United States, some priests are forced to drive hundred of miles so Mass can be celebrated in parishes.
Eleven of the men Benedict ordained were Italian. The other Europeans were an Irishman and a Romanian.
Parts of eastern Europe, experiencing a religious revival after the downfall of totalitarian regimes which often discouraged religion, has seen an increase in vocations in recent years.
Catholicism is growing in Africa, and priests from Nigeria, Angola and Kenya were ordained Sunday. The rest of the new priests were from Uruguay, Costa Rica, Bolivia and Peru.
Benedict, addressing tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square after the ordination ceremony, prayed from his studio window that "vocations, numerous and holy, may flourish and mature" throughout the world.
Catholics in several parts of the world, especially in the United States, have been demoralized by scandals in which priests were accused of sexually molesting youngsters.
Benedict made no reference to the scandals, but as part of the ordination ritual, the pope asked Rome Cardinal Camillo Ruini of the candidates: "Are you certain they are worthy?"
Ruini assured him they were, based on assessments from their seminaries.
The 78-year-old Benedict, who has been running a hectic schedule since being elected pontiff on April 19, looked tired at times during the 21/2-hour ordination Mass.
On Monday, Benedict greets pilgrims from the United States and Spain. On May 26, he leads religious services at two Rome basilicas, and three days later he makes his first pilgrimage since becoming pope — a one-day trip to Bari in southern Italy.