VATICAN CITY–– Pope Benedict XVI has begun using a wheeled platform to move through crowds at major events, a change the Vatican said was designed to reduce the physical toll on the 84-year-old pontiff.

pope-wheelsPope Benedict XVI stands on a wheeled platform as he arrives for a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 16. This was the pope’s first use of the mobile platform, which was used by Pope John Paul II during his last years. The Vatican said use of the platform was intended to reduce the physical toll on the pope. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)The pope entered St. Peter’s Basilica on the mobile podium Oct. 16, holding onto the bar of the device with one hand as ushers rolled it slowly down the main aisle.

The change did not signal any concern about Pope Benedict’s health, but was made “solely to lighten the burden” of processions, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. During the Mass that followed, the pope moved around the altar as he normally does and navigated steps without a problem.

The platform was used by Pope John Paul II during his last years, when declining mobility made it impossible for him to walk in processions.

Use of the platform by Pope Benedict meant the pope was unable to stop and greet people on the sides of the basilica aisle. On the other hand, standing on the raised platform made him more visible to the thousands of pilgrims who packed the church.

The pope was celebrating Mass with participants of a major Vatican meeting on “new evangelization.” To promote missionary zeal in the church, the pope announced a “Year of Faith” to begin in October 2012.