My sense is that Pope Benedict XVI may further ecumenism more than a “liberal” could… primarily this is because I feel that conservatives have a more realistic understanding of the differences between faiths and a beter grasp of the places where cooperation and unity are possible. This is, I believe and hope, what will arise from Pope B’s papacy. But we shall see… Here’s an article about his first mass, which traditionally sets the tone for a Papacy.

ROME, April 20 – In his first Mass as pope, Benedict XVI reached out to the church today, setting out some of the themes of his papacy in conciliatory language.

He specified some of the top priorities of his papacy: the promotion of the unity of Christians and a commitment to ecumenism, the continued dialogue with other religions and the fulfillment of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Speaking in Latin, as is customary, in the brightly frescoed Sistine Chapel, where he was elected only a day before, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 78, also made repeated references to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, confirming that his own papacy would be one of continuity.

He told the gold-robed cardinals in attendance that he would assume as his primary task the “full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ.”

More than a task, he said, it was a duty where “concrete gestures” were required and not vague motions of good sentiment.

American cardinals said today that the new pope had been unfairly caricatured as an unfeeling conservative in his role for more than two decades as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal watchdog.

They instead described him, at a news conference at the Pontifical North American College, as a caring, brilliant churchman who listens to those with opposing views.

“He wants to be collegial,” said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington. “He wants the advice of cardinals. That for me is one of the great things.”

Cardinal Edward Egan of New York called Pope Benedict calm and strong. “I think he’ll play well as soon as people come to know him,” he said. “This is a very unprepossessing, humble, and if I may say, lovely gentleman.”

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said, “We have to get to know this man” beyond his public image as a cold disciplinarian.

In a homily on Monday, Cardinal Ratzinger said that Christians were being tossed about by the waves of Marxism, collectivism, libertinism and atheism.

And he was highly critical of the creation of new “sects,” a term often used by church leaders to refer to Christian evangelical movements, drawing Christians into what he said was “error.”

But in his first homily as pontiff he took a much softer stance, saying he was disposed “to do what was in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism.”

And in a gesture perhaps intended to allay the fears of those critics who saw his election as shutting the door on the inter-religious dialogue started by his predecessor, Pope Benedict appealed to “those who follow other religions,” reassuring them that the church wanted to continue to construct “an open and sincere dialogue” with them.

He also promised to continue carrying out the Second Vatican Council, “in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the bi-millenary tradition of the church.

Forty years after the end of the council that radically reformed the church, he said, “the council documents have not lost their actuality,” and their teachings are particularly important to the current petitions of the church and today’s “globalized society.”

The 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church made frequent references to his predecessor, John Paul II, and to the immense outpouring of public affection that accompanied his final illness and death. The late pope, he said, left a church that is “more courageous, more free and more young.”

His final thoughts in the homily were for the young, and Pope Benedict said he looked forward to meeting “the future and hope of the church and humanity” in Bonn next August for World Youth Day. He pledged to continue the dialogue launched by his predecessor, and promised to listen to their expectations.