FREIBURG, Germany, Sunday
Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass before 100,000 of the faithful in Germany’s Catholic heartland on Sunday at the end of a visit that has disappointed many inside and outside the Church.
Mothers held up babies and toddlers for the pontiff to bless and kiss as he arrived in brilliant sunshine at an airfield in Freiburg in the specially-built “popemobile”.
It was the fourth and final day of an exhausting trip, his first state visit to his native country, that took the 84-year-old pontiff from Berlin and Erfurt in eastern Germany to this staunchly Catholic university town in the southwest.
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 such as “Wir sind Kirche” (We are Church) or “Die Kirche von unten” (The Church from below), 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.”
The pope has used his trip to call German Catholics to order and 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. In turn, the trip and his tough words have disappointed many.
Meanwhile, the Vatican said Sunday it had no knowledge of a report in an Italian newspaper which said that Pope Benedict could retire after his 85th birthday next year.