Leaders around the world welcome pope

Staff And Wire Reports

LONDON - From Notre Dame in Paris to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, cathedral bells tolled and prayers were offered yesterday to celebrate the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

Roman Catholics and political and religious leaders around the world embraced the staunchly conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as successor to the hugely popular Pope John Paul II. Many watched live television broadcasts of the white smoke that puffed from a Vatican chimney to tell the world a new pontiff had been chosen.

But while some saw Ratzinger as a fitting choice to consolidate and build on Pope John Paul's work, others saw him as too hard-line to lead the church in the 21st century.

Jewish and Muslim leaders said they were hopeful that Ratzinger, who chose the name Benedict XVI, would continue his predecessor's effort to reach out to those from other faiths.

At St. Michael Seminary in Traunstein, Germany, which Ratzinger attended as a child, a roomful of boys jumped up and cheered at the news.

"It's fantastic that it's Cardinal Ratzinger," said Lorenz Gradl, 16, who was confirmed by Ratzinger in 2003.

"It's a very good choice," agreed Alois Kansky, priest at the St. Anthony church in downtown Prague, Czech Republic, as he rang the bells to honor the new pontiff.

In Washington, President Bush and congressional leaders welcomed the new pope's election and praised him as a strong guardian of traditional church doctrine.

"He's a man of great wisdom and knowledge. He's a man who serves the Lord," Bush told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. Recalling Ratzinger's homily at Pope John Paul's funeral in Rome earlier this month, Bush said "his words touched our hearts and the hearts of millions."

Pope Benedict earned the cardinals' respect by making his intentions for the church clear, said Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, one of Congress' most conservative Catholics.

"The future of the church is in staying true to the church, and the reason the church is so attractive in the developing world is because it speaks the truth," Santorum said.

Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, said the new pope would bring clarity and continuity to the Catholic leadership.

Other lawmakers simply said they were satisfied that the process of electing a new pope was complete.

"The cardinals have spoken, and the church lives on," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who is Catholic and attended Pope John Paul's funeral.

Others offered their congratulations to the new pontiff. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy III, a Massachusetts Democrat, said he prayed "that his pontificate will bring healing to the entire world and to all people of every faith."

But some people around the world worried about the new pope's deep conservatism, saying he was the wrong choice to lead the church as it grapples with modern problems. Divisions between the wealthy north and the poor south, priest sex-abuse scandals, a chronic shortage of clergy in Western nations and the stream of Catholics leaving the church are among the issues confronting Pope Benedict.

"The election signalizes continuity," said Hans Peter Hurkal, chairman of the Austrian branch of We are the Church, a group that promotes reform within the church.

"But if Pope Benedict XVI refuses to reform, the church's descent will go faster," he said. "There is a clear demand for reforms."

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said he hoped ties between his country and the Vatican would continue to warm, and alluded to Ratzinger's recollection that he was forced to join the Nazi youth movement.

"We are sure that considering the background of this new pope he, like his predecessor, will be a strong voice against anti-Semitism in all its forms," Shalom said.

Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, also offered good wishes, saying Pope Benedict "can rest assured about the Muslim world's fullest support on social, moral and political issues common between us."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, praised Ratzinger as "a theologian of great stature" and wished him "every blessing" in his work.

The leader of Ireland's 4 million Roman Catholics, Archbishop Sean Brady, urged the faithful to pray for their new leader.

"The election of our new pope is not only a source of great joy and hope for Catholics throughout the world, it is also an important event for the whole human family," he said.

In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he looked forward to working with the new pope on aiding Africa and encouraging economic development. Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip sent their good wishes to Rome.

Also among those sending congratulations was Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who clashed with Pope John Paul by pushing to legalize gay marriage and ease laws on abortion and divorce.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wished the pope "every strength and courage as he takes on his formidable responsibilities."

Sun staff writers Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Gwyneth K. Shaw contributed to this article.

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