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Pope’s Portugal trip a bid to move beyond scandal

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PORTO, Portugal — Pope Benedict XVI wrapped up a trip to Portugal on Friday with an appeal to spread the faith, capping a pilgrimage marked by an explicit admission of church guilt in the clerical abuse scandal with a fresh bid to move beyond the crisis.

Benedict celebrated Mass in the northern city of Porto, his final stop on a four-day visit designed to boost the faithful in a country that is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic but where only about 20 percent of the people regularly go to church. Portugal's north is its most conservative, staunchly Catholic region, and Benedict came to pay tribute to efforts by the local bishop to make the church a stronger presence in the country.

"We must get over the temptation of limiting ourselves with what we have, or think we have as surely ours," Benedict said. "How much time has been lost, how much work has been pushed back because we didn't pay attention to this?"

Police estimated that more than 150,000 people attended Friday's Mass, celebrated in front of city hall on Porto's main avenue, which filled with flag-waving faithful shouting "Viva o papa!" On Thursday, some 400,000 pilgrims turned out for the spiritual highlight of Benedict's trip, a Mass in the famous shrine city of Fatima on the anniversary of the day when three shepherd children reported visions of the Virgin.

The pontiff returned to Rome Friday afternoon.

Benedict dealt with the clerical abuse scandal head-on en route to Portugal, telling reporters on board the papal plane that the crisis was caused by the "sins within the church," his most explicit admission of Church culpability to date. But Benedict moved on to other issues during his various speeches and homilies, which touched on the increasing secularization of Europe and the need to uphold traditional church teaching on key matters of life and family.

In Fatima, Benedict called abortion and same-sex marriage some of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world today. Vatican officials cast the turnout in Fatima as evidence that Benedict had turned a page in weathering the abuse scandal, which has dogged him for months.

One issue Benedict didn't address at length in any of his speeches or homilies was the European financial crisis and the crippling effect it is having in Portugal. During his visit, Prime Minister Jose Socrates announced tax hikes in a bid to allay market fears about its high level of debt.

The crisis is being felt acutely in Porto, known for its production of Portugal's famous sweet port wine but perhaps more importantly as the hub of the country's industrial north. Its traditional manufacturing sector, especially textiles and footgear, has declined over the past 20 years, putting many out of work.

The plight of Portugal's low-paid blue-collar workers — Portugal's minimum monthly wage, earned by more than 300,000 people, is euro475 — is expected to worsen with the new austerity measures designed to reduce the state debt.

Benedict made a few vague references to the tough times, but only explicitly referred to the financial crisis in comments to reporters on the first day in which he renewed his call for a more ethics-based world financial order.

Porto Archbishop Manuel Clemente referred to the economic difficulties in his welcome to the pontiff Friday, saying the church was "urgently" being called on to provide charity to the needy.

Associated Press writer Barry Hatton contributed to this report.