Open-air mass wraps up pope's first 'home' state visit

25th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI flew out of his native Germany Sunday after celebrating mass with around 100,000 on the final day of a visit that has disappointed many inside and outside the Church.

The two-hour mass was one of the high points of an exhausting trip, his first state visit home that took the 84-year-old pontiff from Berlin and Erfurt in eastern Germany to this staunchly Catholic university town in the southwest.

When Benedict arrived for the ceremony at an airfield in brilliant sunshine on Sunday morning in the specially built "popemobile", mothers held up babies and toddlers for him to bless and kiss.

Benedict said it was "moving" for him to celebrate the mass with so many.

He urged German Catholics to overcome their internal differences and remain faithful and obedient to Rome in "this time of danger and radical change" and a "crisis of faith."

"The Church in Germany will overcome the great challenges of the present and future, and it will remain a leaven in society, if the priests, consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful ... work together in unity," he said.

And in remarks seemingly aimed at German Catholic groups clamouring for change, he said: "The Church in Germany will continue to be a blessing for the entire Catholic world: if she remains faithfully united with the successors of Saint Peter and the apostles."

During a total of 18 separate addresses over the past four days, some of his comments have been taken to be stern criticism of the German Church.

In one of his final speeches, in Freiburg's concert hall, the pontiff warned of the Church "giving greater weight to organisation and institutionalisation than to her vocation to openness."

And earlier, he had complained about believers "whose life of faith is 'routine' and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith."

But Hans Langendoerfer, coordinator of the trip, and Germany's top archbishop, Robert Zollitsch, insisted that such criticism was not targeted specifically at the Catholic Church in Germany.

In fact, at a lunch with members of the German Bishops' Conference after the mass, Langendoerfer said the pope had said: "I know these are difficult times for the Church in Germany. Many are leaving the herd. But you are the shepherds and you're good shepherds."

The pope has used his trip to call on German Catholics to hammer home his ultra-conservative credo on a range of issues such as artificial contraception, abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage.

He has warned against "lukewarm" Christians who he said were damaging the Church.

Other religious communities have expressed disappointment about the visit.

Protestants complained that Benedict had failed to help heal the 500-year-old rift between the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, which each have about 24 million members in Germany.

Germany's Jewish community also appeared to have expected more, complaining that the pontiff failed to make headway on painful topics such as the sanctification of World War II-era Pope Pius XII.

A keenly awaited element of Benedict's visit was his meeting with victims who suffered abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, as he had on previous trips to Britain, Malta, the United States and Australia.

But victims' groups were unimpressed, saying the Vatican was still not allowing the crimes to be fully investigated.

Nevertheless, the tens of thousands who turned out to welcome the pontiff were overjoyed at seeing him up close.

Josephine Whitelaw and her husband Trevor from Adelaide, Australia, said they had stayed an extra day in Freiburg just to catch a glimpse of Benedict.

"He was really close," she beamed.

Mario Piel, a 23-year-old Protestant from Stuttgart, said: "It was good to see a German pope. It's a chance you get only once in a thousand years."

At the farewell ceremony at Lahr airport, Benedict thanked German President Christian Wulff and other top-ranking officials for a "moving and eventful" four days.

He said he was "profoundly grateful for (the) fraternal exchange" with the Lutheran church and described his meetings with the Orthodox Church, as well as Jews and Muslims as "significant".

© 2011 AFP

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