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Thousands join pope on Youth Day




Pope Benedict XVI
Roman Catholic Church

COLOGNE, Germany (CNN) -- Before an enthusiastic crowd numbering in the hundreds of thousands, Pope Benedict XVI has celebrated an open-air mass to end World Youth Day.

The week-long gathering of Catholic youths, which takes place every three years, was created by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II in 1985.

At the end of the two-hour service, Benedict XVI announced the next World Youth Day would be held in Sydney, Australia, in 2008.

During his homily in a field near the German city of Cologne, the pontiff spoke about the need for the faithful to commit to attending Mass weekly.

"Sometimes, our initial impression is that having to include time for Mass on a Sunday is rather inconvenient," the pope said. "But if you make the effort, you will realize this is what gives a proper focus to your free time. Do not be deterred from taking part in Sunday Mass, and help others to discover it, too."

In some parts of the world, Benedict XVI said, "there is a strange forgetfulness of God," and also "this feeling of frustration, a sense of dissatisfaction with everyone and everything. People exclaim, 'This cannot be what life is about.' And indeed, it is not."

He urged the crowd to read the catechism of the Catholic Church, but acknowledged "books alone are not enough. Form communities based on faith."

But he seemed to criticize the commercialism of religion, noting a "kind of new explosion of religion" but saying, "if pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product. Some are even able to make a profit from it."

The pope was driven to the altar overlooking the Marienfeld, or Mary's Field, in his tall popemobile to the sound of hymns as thousands of priests lined up to assist in the service.

At a prayer vigil Saturday night, Benedict XVI stuck to the script -- a departure from the folksy style of John Paul II, who was known to sing Polish songs and tell jokes at such events, said John Allen, CNN Vatican analyst.

However, he said, Benedict XVI was smiling and friendly as he delivered his message, and seemed to generate affection with the crowd. Allen added that he believed Benedict XVI was right in not attempting to clone the previous pope.

During his four-day trip to his homeland, his first as pontiff, Benedict XVI visited a synagogue, where he voiced concerns about "renewed signs" of anti-Semitism, and met a group of Muslim leaders and spoke about defeating the spread of terrorism.

In blunt remarks, he told Muslim leaders they had a "great responsibility" in properly educating their younger generations, according to The Associated Press. (Full story)

"I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up as one of our concerns the spread of terrorism," Benedict told the Muslim leadership, mainly Turks, in his most extensive remarks on terrorism during his four-month papacy.

"Terrorist activity is continually recurring in various parts of the world, sowing death and destruction, and plunging many of our brothers and sisters into grief and despair."

Benedict did not mention specific attacks or assess blame.

"Those who instigate and plan these attacks evidently wish to poison our relations, making use of all means, including religion, to oppose every attempt to build a peaceful, fair and serene life together," he said, according to AP.

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