RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Pope Francis left Brazil late Sunday after leading a giant beach mass for three million pilgrims, ending his historic trip to reignite Catholic passion with pleas for a humbler Church.
The first Latin American-born pontiff flew back to Rome hours after addressing a sea of faithful who waved flags, danced and chanted "long live the pope!" on the crescent-shaped shoreline of Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach.
"I depart with many happy memories which I know will nourish my prayers. Already I am beginning to miss Brazil, this great people showing so much affection and friendship," the pope said before boarding his plane.
Before ending his first trip abroad since his election in March, the head of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics urged young believers gathered for World Youth Day, a religious event, to "go and make disciples of all nations." "Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent," the 76-year-old Argentine said as scores of people took a dip in the ocean.
Later, the pope met with Latin American bishops and urged them again to get out of their parishes and take the word of God directly to the region's slums - one of the main themes of his week-long visit.
"Bishops must be pastors, close to the people, men who love poverty, men who do not think and behave like princes. Men who are not ambitious. Men capable of watching over the flock entrusted to them," he said.
The pope, who has championed a "poor Church for the poor," practiced what he preached last Thursday when he visited one of Rio's notoriously dangerous slums.
The pope voiced concern this weekend over the "exodus" of Catholics to other beliefs or secularism.
Even Brazil, the world's most populous mostly Catholic country, has seen a drop in Catholicism while Evangelical churches have boomed. Almost 65 percent of Brazil's population was Catholic in 2010, down from 92 percent in 1970, according to the census.
In his farewell remarks at the airport, the pope revealed that during his visit to Brazil's revered Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida he had "implored Mary to strengthen you in the Christian faith, which forms part of the noble soul of Brazil, as indeed of many other countries." The pope was able to draw huge crowds every day in Brazil, culminating with the massive mass on Copacabana which drew twice the audience that the Rolling Stones attracted in a free beach concert in 2006.
The final ceremony included staid Bible readings but also a rousing concert with a band and choir that could have been seen in one of Brazil's many and expanding Evangelical churches.
"World Youth Day was fantastic. Everybody is united on God's path. Now the pope leaves and we have to evangelize," said Andressa Pusak, 25, of Brazil, who was among the throngs who had camped out on the beach before the mass.
The pope announced that Krakow, Poland, the native land of late pope John Paul II, who started the World Youth Day tradition, will host the next gathering in 2016, prompting Polish pilgrims to jump up and down on the beach.
Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina and Evo Morales of Bolivia were on hand for the mass.
The pope used his visit to delve into political and social troubles in Brazil and elsewhere, voicing support Saturday for young protesters "who want to be actors of change" and urging them to use "Christian response" to their concerns.
"It was quite a change from what we have been accustomed to over the past 30 year. But it was more a revolution in style, Francis does not want to change the doctrine," said theologian Fernando Altemeyer, of the Catholic University of Sao Paulo.
The pope returned to familiar issues on Sunday in his first interview since he succeeded retired pope Benedict XVI, telling Cathedral Radio that family was "important, necessary for the survival of humanity." Later, addressing thousands of World Youth Day volunteers, he urged the young believers to ignore those "who say marriage is out of fashion" and "rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary." The crowd then chanted: "This is the pope's young crowd!"