April 20, 2005 08:00 AM

As masses were being held around the world to celebrate the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – who is now Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church – the man himself began his Wednesday in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, where he outlined the aims of his papacy.

Delivering a message read in Latin to cardinals during a morning mass – his first as Pope – the new pontiff said that among his missions is to unify all Christians (termed his “primary task”), reach out to other religions, and closely follow the path of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Uniting all Christians is not merely a sentiment, he stressed, saying: “Concrete acts that enter souls and move consciences are needed.” He also noted that reaching out to other faiths was a hallmark of the papacy of the late John Paul II, to whom the new Pope referred several times in his message.

In the late Pope’s final will, John Paul said he hoped new generations would draw upon the work of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 congress that called for a more liberal attitude in Church teachings.

Said Benedict, who is considered an instinctive ultra-conservative when it comes to his views on contraception, divorce, abortion and the role of women in the Church: “I too … want to affirm with decisive willingness to follow in the commitment of carrying out the Second Vatican Council, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the 2,000-year-old tradition of the church.”

Benedict turned 78 on Saturday, making him the oldest pope elected since Clement XII in 1730 and the first German Pope since the 11th century. He also said on Wednesday that he felt his predecessor’s presence as he wrestled with two conflicting emotions: gratefulness to God for the gift of being Pope but also “a sense of inadequacy” in carrying out the responsibility.

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