Speaking from a white stage and looking out over the enormous crowd on Sunday, Francis urged young Catholics to go out and spread their faith "to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent."

"The church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you!" he said to applause in his final homily of the World Youth Day festivities. Later on Sunday, he issued a more pointed message to the region's bishops, telling them to better look out for their flocks and put an end to the clerical culture that places priests on a pedestal often with what Francis called the sinful complicity of lay Catholics who hold the clergy in such high esteem.

The pope's trip, which ended on Sunday, was hailed as a success by the Vatican, pilgrims and everyday Brazilians alike. His nonstop agenda was followed live on television for all seven days, his good nature and modesty charming a nation that counts more Catholics than any other.

"It was great to see the pope on his continent, in his house, speaking his language every day," said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.    Nearly the entire 4 kilometre crescent of Copacabana's broad beach overflowed with flag-waving faithful, some of them taking an early morning dip in the Atlantic and others tossing T-shirts, flags and soccer jerseys into the pontiff's open-sided car as he drove by. Francis worked the crowd, kissing babies, taking a sip of mate tea handed up to him and catching gifts on the fly.

Even the normally stern-faced Vatican bodyguards let smiles slip as they jogged alongside Francis' car, caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowd.

(Agencies)

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