Pope implores Catholics to cling to their faith

Vienna, Austria - Pope Benedict XVI, reaching out to disillusioned Roman Catholics across Europe, ended a three-day pilgrimage to Austria on Sunday with a Mass in Vienna and a stop at a medieval abbey that drew tens of thousands of cheering faithful.

Driving rain that had drenched pilgrims and Benedict's entourage since his arrival on Friday fell intermittently, forcing about 20,000 believers in throwaway plastic raincoats to huddle beneath umbrellas as they packed the square outside central Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Benedict pressed believers to cling to their faith.

"We need a relationship that sustains us, that gives direction and content to our lives," he said.

In his homily, the pope also urged the faithful to set aside Sundays to devote themselves to Christ's teachings and "create oases of selfless love in a world where so often only power and wealth seem to count for anything."

His message echoed one that he had delivered on Saturday to 33,000 rain-soaked pilgrims at the shrine to the Virgin Mary in Mariazell, celebrating its 850th anniversary.

Although that event and the Mass on Sunday were well attended, turnout at many of the pope's other public appearances was somewhat muted.

Throughout the visit, passers-by strolled nonchalantly past giant video screens showing the pontiff. Even the 20,000 who the police said showed up in Vienna on Sunday represented only 10 percent of the capital's estimated 200,000 Catholics.

On Sunday, sunshine finally poked through the clouds as the pope delivered his weekly Angelus prayer on the plaza, but a gust of wind blew his white skullcap off his head, sending aides scrambling to retrieve it.

"The wind has spoken for itself," the pope joked as more gusts tugged at the crimson mantel around his shoulders and repeatedly flipped it up over his face.

Later Sunday, Benedict visited the Heiligenkreuz Abbey south of Vienna, where he praised monks for their consecrated lifestyle as another 12,000 pilgrims waved giant foam hands and young former drug addicts sang and danced on an outdoor stage.

"He's someone who knows how to relate to us," said Julia Klein, a pilgrim from Vienna.

The abbey has unusual significance for the Vatican: It was due to have hosted the late Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Alexy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, before Orthodox bishops scuttled what would have been a historic meeting.

The Vatican has been seeking closer ties with the Orthodox church, which accuses the Catholic church of improperly seeking converts in traditional Orthodox lands.

Benedict's trip has focused on reaching out to jaded Catholics, not just in Austria but across Europe.

Thousands of Roman Catholics in Austria have formally renounced their church affiliations in recent years, citing disgust with sex scandals involving clergy and displeasure over a highly unpopular government-imposed church tax.