World leaders pay respects to Pope Benedict

 

Sun Apr 24,11:23 AM ET      Add to My Yahoo!            Entertainment - AFP

 

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers paid their respects to Pope Benedict XVI moments after his solemn inauguration as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

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The first to greet him as he sat near the altar under the great dome of St Peter's basilica were the leaders of his native Germany, led by President Horst Koehler and his wife.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Edmund Stoiber, premier of the southern German state of Bavaria where the pope was born Joseph Ratzinger 78 years ago, quickly followed.

Each dignitary bowed or knelt, the men shaking hands, some of the women kissing his hand or the ring of office.

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain and Monaco's Prince Albert also followed, as did Prince Philip, husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth.

The pope, resplendent in his vestments, exchanged a few words with each dignitary. One he helped up by the elbow, another he patted on the shoulder.

As the file of well-wishers approached, almost everyone from the southern hemisphere, particularly from Africa, got down on both knees, their faces beaming as they spoke with the pope. With some it was as if they were greeting an old friend, rather than merely exchanging courtesies.

The same could be said of Westerners as well, one of whom leaned over and rested his hands on the arms of the pope's throne, as he chatted.

Yet others appeared stiffer, though no less amiable. Some would simply bow, often bending over uncomfortably as they spoke, and many genuflecting.

The representatives of more than 100 nations who attended the inauguration mass on the esplanade of the basilica included more than 30 heads of state or government.

Pope Benedict was elected by fellow cardinals Tuesday to succeed John Paul II, who died April 2.