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Thousands join Pope for field Mass

Pope Benedict XVI has celebrated the final Mass of his visit to his native Germany, 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 last night when he said that through the years "damage to the church comes not from opponents, but from uncommitted Christians".

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