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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 April, 2005, 04:51 GMT 05:51 UK
German shepherd awaits his flock
By Peter Gould
BBC News, Vatican City

Chairs being set-up in St Peter's Square
Final preparations for the big occasion are under way
The papacy of Benedict XVI officially gets under way with his inaugural Mass on Sunday.

Many foreign dignitaries will be attending, although fewer than for the funeral of John Paul II.

The death of the Polish pope brought an unprecedented number of world leaders to Rome, along with millions of pilgrims.

In addition to the presidents, prime ministers and patriarchs, there was a majestic gathering of European royalty.

By contrast, the cast list for the installation of the new pope is not quite so high-powered.

Kings and queens

It includes the vice-president of Costa Rica, the education and religion minister from Greece, and the home affairs minister from Switzerland.

The King and Queen of Spain will be here again, no doubt hoping Pope Benedict XVI does not bring up this week's vote, by the lower house of the Spanish parliament, to allow same-sex marriages.

A banner from a window in Rome that says: Benedict XVI - Bless us All
Romans are preparing for the Mass

It is just the kind of liberal-minded reform he opposed as a cardinal, and is now certain to condemn as pope.

The British contingent will be headed by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Constitutional Affairs Secretary, Lord Falconer.

Perhaps more significant will be the presence of Dr Rowan Williams, only the second Archbishop of Canterbury to attend such an occasion since the Reformation.

German joy

As preparations continue for the Mass, the souvenir stands around the Vatican have stocked up with Pope Benedict XVI trinkets and postcards.

But much of the old stock is still on display. John Paul II memorabilia is very much in demand.

A number of Grand Inquisitors went on to become pope and, as a modern-day guardian of Church orthodoxy, Benedict XVI could be said to be following in their footsteps

It is estimated that anything up to half a million people will converge on St Peter's Square for the open-air service.

About 100,000 people are expected from Germany alone, and many may end up watching the Mass on giant TV screens in adjoining streets.

During the service, Pope Benedict will receive the symbols of his office, including the Fisherman's Ring and the pallium - a stole of white wool embroidered with black crosses.

'Softening image'

Despite security concerns, it is hoped the new pope will follow his predecessor, John Paul II, by walking forward to the barriers to meet the crowds.

Nuns buying postcards of the new Pope
Local souvenir stands are full of the new Pope's memorabilia

Such a gesture would go a long way to soften the rather austere image of the Bavarian-born theologian, best known for his former job as protector of the morals of the Church.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican department founded in 1542 when it was known as the Holy Inquisition.

Set up to counter the spread of Protestantism, it interrogated suspected heretics and drew up lists of banned books, including works by Calvin and Luther.

In 1633, Galileo was prosecuted for having the nerve to support Copernicus in declaring that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

A number of Grand Inquisitors went on to become pope and, as a modern-day guardian of Church orthodoxy, Benedict XVI could be said to be following in their footsteps.

As the Church's 265th pope, he now has to reassure those Catholics apprehensive about his reputation as a conservative resolutely opposed to reform.

'German Shepherd'

Already he is projecting the image of a humble pastor, ready to embrace his global flock of 1.1 billion Catholics.

Cardinals have said some of the media descriptions of the former cardinal are myths and caricature, and insist he is a simple and serene man.

Now he is pope, the Vatican does not want to see any more references to "God's Rottweiler". But one Italian newspaper has continued the theme with a rather more subtle headline: "The German Shepherd".

So far, as Benedict XVI, he has been working behind the scenes at the Vatican, quietly taking up the reins of power.

The public job, front of house, begins with Sunday's Mass.

Then, Catholics can start getting to know their new pope.

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