Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Pope pledges to work for reconciliation and peace in first general audience

VICTOR L. SIMPSON

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI held the first general audience of his new pontificate Wednesday, pledging to work for reconciliation and peace.


He also referred to Europe's Christian roots in what is expected to be a major theme of his papacy.

The Pope touched on the issues as he described how he chose his name, recalling Pope Benedict XV, who led the church during the First World War.

"In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples," he said.

Benedict also recalled St. Benedict of Norcia, a patron saint of Europe, "whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe."

"I ask him to help us all hold firm to the centrality of Christ in our Christian life."

Benedict arrived in St. Peter's Square in an open-topped, jeep-like vehicle surrounded by security guards.

The weekly appointment has been a fixture for recent popes, and an estimated 15,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square for the event.

Faithful waved and reach out to him as the vehicle, with the Pope standing in the back, passed through the square.

Benedict, who was formally installed on Sunday, greeted pilgrims in a half-dozen languages, including Polish, the native language of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

"I greet the faithful of the Polish language. I thank you for your goodness and your prayers. I bless you from my heart," Benedict said.

In English, he described how he was filled with "sentiments of awe and thanksgiving," adding in his native German the word "trembling."

After the Pope's formal remarks during the 90-minute audience in the sun-baked square, only bishops and other clerics - not ordinary pilgrims - were brought up for greetings.

The reference to Europe's Christian heritage is a theme Benedict is expected to take up frequently in a bid to combat religious apathy on the continent.

He said the founder of the Benedictine order is heavily venerated in Germany and "in particular Bavaria, the land of my origin."

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