Pope Benedict XVI winds up his nostalgic visit to his native Bavaria on Thursday with a visit to the cathedral in the city of Freising where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1951.
Hello, goodbye--Pope Benedict XVI waves to crowds before a mass in Munich on Sunday
People hung out banners and spelled Pope Benedict XVI's name in flower petals on the sidewalk ahead of the pontiff's visit on Thursday to the cathedral in Freising, where he was ordained a priest more than 50 years ago.
Well-wishers gathered two hours ahead of time just to glimpse the pope riding by on his way to deliver an address to priests and deacons at the cathedral. It was his last event on his personal six-day trip to his native Bavaria homeland.
Many pilgrims spent the night at a field outside of Regensburg for an outdoor mass on Tuesday
Martina Baumgarnter, a 22-year-old student from Erding near Munich, told AP news agency that the trip had shown her the warmer side of the 79-year-old former theologian who succeeded the charismatic John Paul II last year.
"I had an image of him as being more distant than his predecessor, that has changed a lot," Baumgartner said.
The visit is likely to be remembered as a sentimental stroll down memory lane in what the 79-year-old pope himself admitted may be his final major visit to his homeland.
The emotional high point of the trip came on Wednesday when the pontiff knelt in prayer at the graves of his mother, father and sister.
The private prayers at the tiny Ziegetsdorf cemetery outside the city of Regensburg came on a day which the Vatican said had been reserved for "private time" for the pope and his elder brother Georg.
Following the 20-minute visit, the two brothers went the short distance to the house in the neighboring suburb of Pentling, which the head of the Roman Catholic Church has owned since he was a theology professor at Regensburg university.
Pope focused on family
In an earlier address, the pope had appealed for unity within the Roman Catholic Church, where pressure groups have challenged his traditional views of marriage and the family.
"Just as in an organ an expert hand must constantly bring disharmony back to consonance, so we in the Church ... always need to find anew, through our communion in faith, harmony in the praise of God and in fraternal love."
The pope, at a Mass at the Islinger field in Regensburg on Tuesday
On Tuesday Benedict had hit the only political note of his visit, during which his addresses have been almost entirely spiritual, when he fleetingly criticised the Islamic concept of "Jihad."
"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," the pope had said in a complex treatise on reason and faith.
His comments drew criticism on Wednesday from a leading Muslim figure in Italy. Ejaz Ahmad, a member of an Italian governmental consultative committee on Islam, called on him to retract them.
"The Muslim world is currently undergoing a deep crisis and any attack from the West can aggravate this crisis," Ahmad was quoted as saying by Italy's ANSA news agency.
"In his speech the pope overlooks the fact that Islam was the cradle of science and that Muslims were the first to translate Greek philosophers before they became part of European history," he said.