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MILAN - The pope said traditional family values and Sunday rest were key to escaping the ills of modern society and reached out to divorced people at a mass to close the World Meeting of Families in Milan.
Welcomed by a million flag-waving pilgrims gathered at Bresso airport, Pope Benedict XVI looked tired but cheerful as he drove through the crowds in his pope-mobile Sunday, stopping several times to wave to children and kiss babies.
"Dear families, despite the relentless rhythms of the modern world, do not lose a sense of the Lord's day," the pope said, describing the tradition of Sunday rest as "an oasis in which to pause... and celebrate the family."
He lamented the modern-day "utilitarian concept of work, production and the market," which "brings in its wake ferocious competition, strong inequalities, degradation of the environment, the race for consumer goods, family tensions."
Particularly in a period of economic crisis and social unease, families should celebrate Sunday as "the day of man and his values: conviviality, friendship, solidarity, culture, closeness to nature, play, sport," he said.
The pontiff, who had earlier described his great sadness over a whistle-blowing scandal which has recently hit the Vatican, looked overwhelmed with joy as the audience in Bresso rose to give him a standing ovation.
From a meeting with young pilgrims in Milan's San Siro football stadium to a celebration with thousands in front of the city's multi-spired Gothic Cathedral, the pope has used the family throughout the event as a tool to boost mores that the Church sees as under threat.
"We have been given the task of building church communities that are more and more like families... based on a marriage between man and woman," he told pilgrims gathered together from 154 countries, in a reference to the West's increasing openness to unconventional families.
"Watch over your children and, in a world dominated by technology, transmit to them, with serenity and trust, reasons for living, the strength of faith, pointing them towards high goals and supporting them in their fragility."
For the second time during the trip, Benedict extended an olive branch to divorced believers who feel cast out from the Church. While he insisted they cannot receive the Sacraments, he said more should be done to include them.
Addressing "the faithful who, even though they agree with the Church's teachings on the family, have had painful experiences of breakdown and separation," he said "the Pope and the Church support you in your struggle."
"I encourage you to remain united to your communities, and I earnestly hope that your dioceses are developing suitable initiatives to welcome and accompany you," he added, having earlier said their pain "is the whole community's pain."
Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti was among those attending the celebration. On Saturday, the pope had said how aware he is of the struggle families face due to the economic crisis, chiding politicians who fail to keep their promises.
He also called for greater acts of charity from ordinary people, suggesting families from rich countries could sponsor families from poorer ones.
The pontiff announced Sunday that the next World Meeting of Families will take place in 2015 in Philadelphia, a US diocese heavily implicated in the clerical abuse scandal which has rocked the Church in recent years.
It will be the 8th edition of an event founded by Jean Paul II in 1994 in order to promote the Christian family.
The pope will now return to a Vatican embroiled in a scandal, with rumors of bids within the Church to undermine its hierarchy.
The "Vatileaks" scandal, in which hundreds of documents were leaked to the media, culminated in the arrest of the pope's personal butler, Paolo Gabriele.
The relaxed and festive Church-sponsored World Meeting of Families has been a welcome distraction for the 85-year-old from the turmoil at the Holy See.
But his visit sparked minor protests by communist and gay rights groups against the Church's promotion of a single, heterosexual model for families, while others said the pontiff should have visited earthquake-hit northeast Italy.
"He took the time to go to the Scala opera house, he would have done better by going to Emilia Romagna to help the earthquake victims," a Milanese taxi driver told AFP, referring to the pope's evening at the concert hall on Friday.
With the pope in Milan, some of the Swiss Guards who usually protect the Vatican spent the weekend helping out in the Emilia Romagna region, which was hit hard in recent weeks by two quakes which left 23 people dead.