.- On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI formally took possession of St. John Lateran Cathedral, confirming his position as Bishop of the Diocese of Rome. Some forty cardinals, members of the diocesan episcopal council, canons of the Lateran Basilica and the council of pastor prefects concelebrated Mass at the Basilica with the Holy Father.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general of the diocese of Rome, opened the celebration, expressing his joy as Rome received her new pastor. The Pope then sat in his “cathedra”, literally “chair” for the first time as the choir and congregation sang: "Joy, peace and life to you Benedict, bishop of Rome."
The Pope then received expressions of "obedience" from a representatives of the Roman Church, including, Cardinal Ruini in his capacity as archpriest of the basilica of St. John Lateran; Archbishop Luigi Moretti, vicegerent of the diocese; two priests; a permanent deacon and a deacon preparing for the priesthood.
He also received a male and a female religious, a layman and laywoman, as well as two young people who had received the rite of Confirmation.
In his homily, the Holy Father spoke of the Ascension of the Lord, which was celebrated in many places around the world Sunday, saying that Christ, "thanks to His being with the Father, is close to each of us forever.”
“Each of us”, he said, “can address Him as a friend, each of us can call on Him." Although "we can live with our backs turned to Him, He always awaits us, He is always close to us."
Pope Benedict said that the Risen Christ "has need of witnesses who have met Him, of men and women who have known Him intimately through the power of the Holy Spirit. ... The successors to the Apostles - that is, the bishops - have the public responsibility to ensure that the network of this testimony endures over time. ... And in this network of witnesses, a special task falls to Peter's Successor."
The Pope, he said, "must be aware that he is a weak and fragile man," in constant need of "purification and conversion. Yet he may also be aware that from the Lord comes the strength to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith, and to keep them united in confessing the Crucified and Risen Christ."
He added that, "The bishop of Rome sits in his cathedra to bear witness to Christ. Thus the cathedra is the symbol of the 'potestas docendi,' that authority to teach which is an essential part of the mandate to bind and to loosen conferred by the Lord on Peter and, after him, on the Twelve."
Regarding this, Pope Benedict noted that, "where Holy Scripture is disjoined from the living voice of the Church, it falls prey to the disputes of experts."
"This authority to teach,” he said, “frightens many people, both within and outside the Church. They ask themselves whether it does not threaten freedom of belief, whether it is not a presumption that goes against freedom of thought.”
The Pope sought to put minds at rest saying, “It is not so. ... The Pope is not an absolute sovereign whose thoughts and will are law. Quite the contrary, the ministry of the Pope is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to His Word.”
“He must not proclaim his own ideas,” Benedict added, “but constantly bind himself and the Church in obedience to God's Word in the face of all attempts to adapt that Word or to water it down, and in the face of all forms of opportunism."
The Pope stressed that this is what John Paul II did "when, in the face of all apparently benevolent attempts, in the face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he unequivocally underlined the inviolability of the human being, the inviolability of human life from conception to natural death.”
“The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces human beings to slavery."
The Holy Father said that, "The Pope is aware of being bound - in his important decisions - to the great community of the faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed during the Church's pilgrim journey."
He has the responsibility to ensure that the Word of God "continues to be present in its greatness and to sound forth in its purity, so that it is not dismembered by constant changes in fashion."
Concluding his homily, the Pope assured members of the Roman diocese: "Now I am your bishop. Thank you for your generosity! Thank you for your kindness! Thank you for your patience! As Catholics we are all, in some way, also Romans."
Following the Mass, Pope Benedict traveled in an open car to the basilica of St. Mary Major to venerate the "Salus Populi Romani", an icon of the Virgin Mary, which is conserved in the Borghese Chapel.
This historic act of veneration by the new Pope represents what the Vatican calls, “an unbroken tradition of supplication by the people of Rome to the Mother of Salvation.”