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A New Papal Era Dawns

The Vatican is starting to adjust to a new era under Pope Benedict XVI as the wider world took a first measure of the man emerging from the shadow of his charismatic predecessor.

Papal greetings for the crowd

As theologians analyzed his first homily as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the cardinals who elected him sought to tone down his image as a harsh champion of staunch conservative values. The new pope used the homily to reach out to the wider Christian community and people of other faiths, vowing to strive for unity and dialogue, a message applauded by religious leaders across the world.

"He is extremely friendly, very warm, very humble and open, and I think he will win the hearts of young people," Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins said. "Although he may come across as a bit distant, in reality he is not. Those who know him personally know that it is a great pleasure to be with him because of his good humour, joy and friendliness."

A man wrapped in a German flag standing in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.

France's most senior cardinal, Jean-Marie Lustiger, said Benedict XVI would not seek to imitate his predecessor John Paul II but still act in a way consistent with the late pontiff's work. He said Joseph Ratzinger's former post as head of the Vatican's top doctrinal body had led to a false perception of him as overly authoritarian.

"People only remember his condemnations, but forget that he also stimulated reflection on difficult, even burning, topics," Lustiger said. "If you call it conservative and traditional to proclaim the Church's true faith, as all bishops and all Catholics are supposed to do, then yes, he is a conservative and traditionalist.

Good intentions are not enough

The 265th pope in the Church's 2,000-year history, the 78-year-old German celebrated mass Wednesday with the cardinals in the same Sistine Chapel where he had been elected a day earlier under Michelangelo's awesome fresco of the Last Judgment. Clearly moved as he entered, wearing a white and gold papal miter, he asked cardinals for their support as he leads the Church's 1.1 billion followers. He vowed to "work unceasingly" toward Christian unity.

"A demonstration of good intentions is not enough," he said. "We need concrete gestures that enter the soul ... calling each one to that interior conversion that is the basis of any progress on the ecumenical path." Turning to other faiths, he said "the Church wants to continue to weave an open and sincere dialogue with them in the search for the true good of man and society."

German newspaper frontpages displaying pictures of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger the day after he was elected pope.

Leaders of other religions quickly picked up on his words. Ali Machsan Musa, a senior leader of Indonesia's Nahdlatul Ulama, which is the world's largest Muslim movement, said he hoped the new pontiff would allow "relations between the various religions to become even better".

There was also approval from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox faithful, and Jewish leaders said they hoped he would continue fighting anti-Semitism like John Paul II had done. Middle East leaders looked forward to Benedict XVI continuing the outreach of John Paul II, the first pope to enter a mosque and a synagogue.

Viva il papa!

After the morning mass, the pope formally broke a seal placed on the papal apartment after the April 2 death of the last pope. Although the apartment is about to be renovated, Italian television showed him sitting at the desk signing a document in his new name.

On a brief trip out by car in the afternoon he was hailed by tourists and Romans with cries of "Viva il Papa." He smiled and waved in reply.

Preparations in Rome are already under way for the pope's inauguration mass Sunday, with many of the security measures used for John Paul II's April 8 funeral, including a ban on aircraft flying over the capital.

Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy's civil protection department, said up to half a million people might attend. Among those expected are Chancellor Gerhard Schrder of Germany.

Church reforms still not out of question

Reacting to the papal election, Venezuelan Cardinal Rosalio Jose Castillo Lara said the new pope's conservative image was a "caricature," saying his old job as doctrinal enforcer -- when he earned the epithet "God's Rottweiler" -- had made him "unable to show all his human qualities."

The latest book of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger "Values in a Time of Upheaval"

Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick said "he has this perceived persona which in many cases is not true. I think he's a genius." US theological experts also said they believed the new pope could prove to be more open to different views and needs among the world's Catholics.

"Maybe the office will change the person and maybe he will bring some renewal and reform to the church," said Thomas Groome, professor of theology at Boston College. Even theologian Hans Küng, who himself ran foul of Ratzinger, said "let's give him a chance.

"He who goes into the conclave with the image of a conservative cardinal might come out as a reformist pope."

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