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Benedict XVI will test religion's 'red-blue' divide

In his first homily Wednesday, he pledged 'sincere dialogue' with all believers.

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Moving rapidly to assuage fears that he would turn the Roman Catholic Church inward, Joseph Ratzinger pledged in his first sermon as Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday to reach out to believers of all faiths and none, promising to "continue ... sincere dialogue with them.'"

His "primary task" would be to "reconstitute the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers," he said in Latin at a Mass in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. "Good sentiments" are not enough, he added. "Concrete acts that enter souls and move consciences are needed."

Observers inside and outside the church wonder how the man who enforced orthodox doctrine for 24 years will do this. He has balked at the prospect of Muslim-majority Turkey joining the European Union, and wrote that other Christian churches "suffer from defects."

Supporters welcome a global figure unwilling to water down his faith. Others see his election as widening the global religious "red-blue" divide between conservative moral absolutists and liberals of all faiths who say religion must be more inclusive.

In his last homily as a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI said that "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."

Benedict has dismissed anyone who tried to find "feminist" meanings in the Bible, and last year told American bishops it was appropriate to deny Communion to those who support abortion and euthanasia.

"He'll continue the dialogue" with other Christian churches and other faiths, says Father Jerome Murphy O'Connor, a biblical scholar in Jerusalem who once studied under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. "But he won't draw any consequences from it. His door will always be open, but don't expect to get what you want."

The new pope's choice of the name Benedict, harking back to the saint who helped Christianize Europe in the sixth century, suggests that he sees his role as reinforcing the faith on an increasingly secular continent, the hearth of Christianity where the ashes appear to be cooling.

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