All but a fraction of the one million visitors have now left Cologne after World Youth Day -- an accomplishment that went over with only a few hitches.
"Up the stairs to the jet, Holiness"
On Sunday, one million visitors were trying to leave the Marienfeld, a large meadow and formerly an open pit mine, 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) west of Cologne after having celebrated mass with the pope. For the organizers, it was a logistical nightmare that guaranteed complications.
A whole stretch of a major autobahn near the western German city was converted into a parking lot and one-way street so that busses could shuttle the young spiritual visitors away from the Marienfeld with as little difficulty as possible for them and the expected return of vacationers in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, where school starts again this week. The German railway added an extra 400 trains to get the throngs back to Cologne from the makeshift place of worship.
Pope Benedict celebrates Sunday Mass, the climax of the World Youth Day in Cologne
Dozens of journalists found out personally just what it means to be a pilgrim when they were sent from one exit to the next to find where the shuttle busses were departing. But at the end of the day, security officials said that the million teens and early 20-year-olds were cooperative.
"All but 6,000 have left Cologne (as of Monday morning)," was the word from the police.
Security tight but seldom needed
Over the course of Pope Benedict's four-day visit to Germany, police reported that there were eight security breaches in the air, including a hot-air balloon that soared on Saturday night over the Marienfeld where WYD held its vigil. On Sunday, the pope-mobile took another route to the Marienfeld due to the discovery of what appeared to be a bomb, but later turned out to be a fake.
"The guest was never exposed to a dangerous situation," was the assessment from Cologne's police chief, Klaus Steffenhagen.
A strong police presence was on hand but there were no major incidents during the six-day event
In all, over 4,000 police officers from North Rhine-Westphalia, bordering states and other European countries provided protection for the pope and to assure that matters remained under control. The police reported that the majority of crimes committed during the span of WYD was primarily theft of articles from backpacks.
Home hamlet receives low-flying Pope
While hundreds of thousands made their way by bus, boat and airplane back to their respective home countries, Benedict boarded a plane that was chosen specifically for the pope as it's named after the Bavarian town of Regensburg, where the he worked as a university professor for many years and still owns a house.
Marktl residents celebrated the pope's election in front of the house where he was born on April 19
The residents of Benedict's birthplace, Marktl am Inn in Bavaria, received their most-famous son in an unusual fashion. It wasn't a personal visit, but the pope's airplane flew low enough for him to see the illuminated city.
The fire brigade shone spotlights on the house where Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927. Also, candles were lit to create an effect visible from the air.
It also was not limited to the visual. From the plane's cockpit, Benedict communicated with Marktl residents via radio and prayed with them.