Pope Benedict XVI took off from Cologne-Bonn airport on Sunday evening on his return flight to Rome after a successful four-day visit to his homeland.
Ciao Benedetto: The pope left Germany on Sunday night for Rome
Pope Benedict XVI bid farewell to the country of his birth on Sunday after what many observers are calling a successful first foreign visit where the pontiff was the main draw at the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne.
Addressing dignitaries and the now commonplace sight of hundreds of papal "groupies", the pope said that he hoped his four-day visit had shown the world "the other Germany" of "cultural and spiritual resources" in contrast to the continued image of a country weighed down by the shameful evil of the Nazi period.
In between the refrain of "Benedetto…Benedetto", the pope told the assembled crowd gathered on the runway at the Cologne-Bonn airport, "These days spent together have given many young men and women from the whole world the opportunity to become better acquainted with Germany," he said before he was to board his plane for Rome.
"We are all well aware of the evil that emerged from our homeland during the 20th century, and we acknowledge it with shame and suffering," he told the audience at the airport, which included Germany's President Horst Köhler.
"During these days, thanks be to God, it has become quite evident that there was and is another Germany, a land of singular human, cultural and spiritual resources," he said.
Pope's birthplace prepares spectacle of light
The Bavarian village where Pope Benedict XVI was born was lit up brightly on Sunday so that the pontiff could see it from the air during his return flight from Germany to Rome.
The pope's Lufthansa Airbus was to fly at low altitude over the village of Marktl am Inn as firemen shone spotlights on to the house where Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927, the village's tourist chief Stephan Semmelmayr said.
Meanwhile, thousands of candles were to create an effect visible from the air. "It will be a spectacular light show," Semmelmayr said. "The town will be able to speak to the cockpit by radio and the mayor Hubert Gschwendtner will be able to send his best wishes."
Earlier in the day, the pope issued a ringing back-to-basics call to more than one million young Catholics at a giant open air mass which marked a triumphant finale to his first foreign visit as pontiff.
Wrapping up a successful four-day visit to his native Germany, the 78-year-old pontiff said young people should turn their backs on secularism and faddish new-age religions. He said there was "a kind of new explosion of religion" that if pushed too far, turned faith into "almost a consumer product."
Pope pledges to build "bridges of friendship"
The huge open-air mass was the culmination of a visit which swung between the spiritual and the political as Benedict made important progress to fulfilling his pledge to build "bridges of friendship" with other faiths.
During his landmark visit to Cologne's synagogue on Friday -- only the second ever by a pope to a Jewish place of worship -- he condemned the "unimaginable crime" of the Holocaust in an address to Jewish leaders.
And on Saturday he urged Muslim leaders to do more to combat the "cruel fanaticism" of terrorism that aimed to poison ties between Christians and Muslims.
Shortly before his departure, the pope had time to lament the "dramatic" shortage of new recruits to the priesthood in his homeland, and urged German bishops to do more to get new vocations.
Outlining the problems facing the Church in his homeland, he said "secularism and de-Christianization" continued to rise, while the "influence of Catholic ethics and morals were in constant decline."
Yet, he warned them there could be "no false compromises, no watering down of Gospel," in efforts to attract young people to the Church.
Benedict warns of "do-it-yourself" religion
Earlier Sunday, in a 20-minute homily dominated by a staunch defense of the everyday practice of religion against secularism, the pope warned the multinational crowd of young pilgrims that constructing their faith on a "do-it-yourself" basis would ultimately prove fruitless.
"People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it. But religion constructed on a 'do-it-yourself' basis cannot ultimately help us."
Benedict urged the young Catholics to keep God at the centre of their lives and underlined the importance of Sunday mass and receiving Holy Communion.
And the huge crowd seemed to appreciate the pope's gently-delivered message, which sought to convey his own burning enthusiasm for the deeper mysteries of faith and the mass.