FREISING, Germany – Pope Benedict XVI set aside his sermon and gave an encouraging talk to priests on Thursday in the cathedral where he was ordained -- a spontaneous gesture ending a nostalgic, six-day homecoming to Bavaria.
"I brought a long sermon, but I won't give it; you can get it in print later," he told the dozens of clergy gathered in the cathedral in Freising outside Munich, to a burst of applause.
Benedict, 79, stressed to the priests the value of their difficult vocations, saying, "God needs people, he needs people who will say, 'I am ready to help with your harvest."'
"We priests have become few," he acknowledged, but won more applause by adding, "We are really here -- there are priests both young and old!"
He told them he no longer had the strength to do everything, and needed help from others like them in the church.
Benedict returned to Rome in the early afternoon after a flight from Munich, ending the pilgrimage to his native Bavaria. The trip included many personal moments -- but he made it more than a simple exercise in nostalgia by warning that modern societies -- like his secular, socially liberal homeland -- must not let faith in reason and technology alone cut them off from God.
Celebrating Mass before 250,000 in Munich on Saturday, he warned Western societies that faith in reason and science alone had made them "deaf" to God's message.
While warning against reason without faith, he also warned that faith needs reason, alluding to ancient Christian concerns about Islam and violence.
The trip also showed the warmer side of Benedict, who can sometimes seem stiff and shy in public. The pope visited the house of his birth in Marktl am Inn, prayed at the graves of his parents, and visited the University of Regensburg, where he once taught and served as vice-president. He repeatedly delighted his fellow Bavarians by taking time to shake hands and kiss babies.
On the trip's last day, people hung out banners and gathered two hours ahead of time to get a glimpse of the pope as he rode by on his way to the cathedral in the southern German town of Freising outside Munich.
Martina Baumgartner, a 22-year-old student from Erding, near Munich, said the trip had shown her the warmer side of the former theologian who succeeded the charismatic John Paul II last year.
"I had the picture that he was more distant than his predecessor; that has changed a lot," said Baumgartner, who also attended a Mass by Benedict on Sunday in Munich.
Red and gold banners hung from windows, and someone had spelled Benedict's name in yellow petals on the sidewalk.
The pope arrived in Freising by helicopter from Regensburg, where he visited the graves of his parents Wednesday, and on Tuesday celebrated an open-air Mass for some 230,000 people.
Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was ordained in the Freising cathedral on June 29, 1951 with 42 others, including his brother, Georg Ratzinger, who was present Thursday.
Benedict became archbishop of the Bavarian capital, Munich, in 1977, a post he held until moving to the Vatican in 1982 as the Roman Catholic Church's top doctrinal official.