Pope Benedict XVI issued a strong call for spiritual renewal among Germans, as he wrapped up a visit to his homeland in which he addressed parliament and met with victims of clerical abuse.
The pope drew hundreds of thousands of German faithful to services held on stops during his trip, including a final Mass early Sunday that attracted about 100,000 people to an airfield beside Freiburg's airport.
In his parting words before leaving for Rome late Sunday, Benedict, 84, wished Germans "strength and confidence" in their faith, underlining a message repeated at each stop of his four-day trip.
From Berlin to Erfurt and finally Freiburg, Benedict stressed the importance of faith, whether as the basis for a thriving democracy or as a force that helped to resist communism in the former East Germany. He stressed the need for Roman Catholics to show unity with Rome, which he said has no intention of bowing to groups demanding changes in the church's teaching.
"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 his homily.
Germany's church has seen large numbers of faithful quitting the congregation in recent years, including a record 181,000 people who left following last year's clerical sex abuse scandal in Germany.
Benedict sought to address the issue, holding a closed-door meeting with five victims of clerical sex abuse Friday, and alluding to the scandal in his speech to Catholics on Sunday afternoon, mentioning "other painful scandals on the part of the preachers of the faith."
In his Sunday homily, Benedict strongly urged Catholics to let their lives be guided by their faith, saying even those who doubt God's existence "are closer to the kingdom of God than believers whose faith is routine and who regard the church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith."
While acknowledging the challenges of a declining flock, the pontiff made clear that the church should not be considered just another organization, but instead was built to carry out Christ's mission.