POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 25, 2011
FREIBURG, Germany (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the final Mass of his visit to his native Germany on Sunday, making a strong appeal for unity among his Catholic flock and with the Vatican.
Tens of thousands of faithful turned out in Freiburg, filling a field beside the airport in one of the largest turnouts of the four-day trip.
Benedict is visiting a Germany where church teaching on such issues as priestly celibacy, contraception, homosexuality and a ban on women becoming priests are heavily contested while a clerical sex abuse scandal is one of the reasons cited for the departure of tens of thousands of Catholics from the German church.
"The church in Germany will continue to be a blessing for the entire Catholic world if she remains faithfully united with the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles," Benedict said in a homily urging German Catholics to "work together in unity."
"Dear friends, in the last analysis, the renewal of the church will only come about through openness to conversion and through renewed faith," he said from an altar set up on a small hill.
The pope has drawn large crowds at his stops in Berlin, across mainly Protestant eastern Germany and this heavily Catholic city in the south.
There have also been scattered protests, the largest of them in Berlin.
Benedict alluded to the dissent in Catholic ranks Saturday night when he said that through the years "damage to the church comes not from opponents, but from uncommitted Christians."
Many in the crowd Sunday waved yellow and white Vatican flags beneath a bright blue sky as they waited for the Mass to begin.
"I expect a beautiful Mass. It is beautiful to realize that one is not alone. It gives you a feeling of greater community," Thamah Huyen Nguyen, a 26-year-old pilgrim from Freiburg.
Juergen Baetz in Freiburg contributed to this report.