IN a liturgy rich with symbols and promises, Pope Benedict XVI formally began his ministry as head of the universal Church, and Catholics from around the world pledged their love and obedience to him.
On April 24, Pope Benedict, who was elected five days earlier, walked down to the tomb of the martyred St Peter in the Vatican basilica to pay homage to the first bishop of Rome.
Then, with some 150 cardinals, he processed into a sun-bathed St Peter’s Square to begin the Mass and receive the main symbols of his office — the fisherman’s ring and the pallium.
The 78 year-old Pope said he would rely on the prayers of all Catholics and the grace of God.
The new Pope said his inaugural Mass was not the moment to present “a program of governance”, but rather a time to promise to try be a good shepherd to Christ’s flock, to rescue those who are lost, to help the poor and to build unity among all believers in Christ.
An estimated 350,000 people attended the Mass, including delegations from more than 130 countries and from dozens of Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches.
Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez placed the pallium, a long woollen stole, around the neck of Pope Benedict, reminding him that Jesus has entrusted him with taking up the ministry of St Peter to shepherd Christ’s flock.
Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, handed Pope Benedict the fisherman’s ring, which the new Pope placed on the ring finger of his right hand.
At the end of the Mass, Pope Benedict took his first ride in the popemobile, standing in the back of the open vehicle, waving to the crowd and blessing them.