Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pope, new cardinals, remember John Paul II

CITATION: By Philip Pullella and Tom Heneghan

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict and 15 new cardinals he elevated to the highest ranks of the Roman Catholic Church paid tribute on Saturday to the late Pope John Paul who died nearly a year ago, recalling his public suffering.
Benedict, dressed in resplendent gold vestments, led the new "princes of the Church" in a solemn mass attended by tens of thousands of people assembled in St Peter's Square.

The new cardinals from around the world, joining the exclusive group that advises the Pope and will one day elect his successor, received rings of office from the Pope a day after they were elevated to the rank at another ceremony.

In his homily, the German-born Pope, 78, urged them to see the ring as a sign of their commitment to spreading the message of Jesus and their closeness to him as members of the "senate" of the successor of St Peter.

Benedict recalled that a year ago this week, John Paul was already in the last days of his life and that the world had witnessed his suffering as he struggled but failed to speak to crowds before he died on April 2.

"It is just one year since his pontificate entered its final phase, full of suffering and yet triumphant ...," he said, speaking from the flower-bedecked steps of St Peter's Basilica.

He spoke of Pope John Paul's deep devotion to the Madonna and recalled the late pope believed the Mother of God had saved his life in an assassination attempt in St Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, when he was shot by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca.

FAMILIAR FACE

As the Pope mentioned his predecessor, the crowd applauded. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, 66, who was at John Paul's side during 26 years as his faithful private secretary, closed his eyes tightly.

For the second straight day, Dziwisz -- one of the most familiar faces in Rome and the Vatican and now the archbishop of Krakow, Poland -- received the loudest and most prolonged applause as he approached the Pope to receive his ring.

Those who said their first mass as cardinals with Benedict on Saturday also included Archbishop Sean O'Malley, who took over in Boston in 2003 to clean up after a clerical sexual abuse scandal forced Cardinal Bernard Law to resign.

Another was Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the outspoken Hong Kong bishop who has criticized the lack of religious freedom in China. He expressed the hope on Friday that his elevation to cardinal will help smooth strained ties between the Vatican and the communist government in Beijing.

One key appointee was William Levada, 69, the former archbishop of San Francisco appointed by Benedict last May to replace him as head of the Vatican's influential Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Other new cardinals came from Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.

The Pope rose from his throne to embrace Cardinal Peter Poreku Dery, an 87-year-old prelate from Ghana who is confined to a wheelchair.

Twelve of the new cardinals are under 80 and thus eligible to enter a conclave to choose a pope. The Church now has a total of 193 cardinals, 120 of them under 80 and able to vote for the next pope.

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