Byline: RYAN PARRY
THE many who gathered to bid the Pope farewell yesterday heard him deliver a touching tribute to the Battle of Britain few.
Benedict XVI delighted the 70,000-strong crowd by honouring the 70th anniversary of one of the most heroic episodes in Britain's resistance to Hitler.
He also talked of those who sacrificed their lives resisting the evil ideology of Nazism in the Second World War.
The German-born Pope, who was forced to join the Hitler Youth as a 14-year-old schoolboy, said how moved he was to be in Britain for the occasion.
The pontiff, 83, was in Cofton Park, Birmingham, addressing a special Mass to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman.
He told the crowd: "This Sunday marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation as it is the day chosen to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
"For me, as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology.
"My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940. Seventy years later we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings. And we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms."
The pontiff arrived in Birmingham by helicopter at 9.45am.
Smiling and waving he climbed into his Popemobile and made his way through the cheering throng, stopping to bless and kiss two babies held up to him.
Crowds in the park, drenched from the morning rain, cheered as he was led on to the papal platform - resembling a rock concert stage - to make his speech.
Many had been camped out there since 3am, wearing waterproofs and wrapped in yellow souvenir scarfs. Sherry Franklin, 50, from Long Ashton, Bristol said: "To be in the presence of the Pope and so many other Catholics is a dream come true."
Economics professor David Paton, 44, of Nottingham University, declared: "It is a very big event for Catholics that the Pope has come to our country. We did not want to miss seeing him."
Retired secretary Frances McHugh, 67, from Shirley, Birmingham, said: "It is lovely to see Pope Benedict in this country. We have not had to go to see him in Rome, he has come to see us."
Vatican officials were pleased with the huge crowd as well as the 80,000 who were at Saturday's Hyde Park Vigil for Cardinal Newman - and the 200,000 who lined the Mall to see him as he was driven there in his Popemobile.
Spokesman Federico Lombardi described the Pope's trip to Britain as "wonderful" He said: "Hundreds of thousands of people have met the Pope.
"If there are critics and protests it is normal and a positive sign of freedom of expression in this society."
As the Pope addressed the crowd they waved banners saying "Welcome Holy Father" or "Give it some welly for the Pope in the Park". Another read "We Love Papa More Than Beans on Toast".
Pope Benedict is a great admirer of the works of Cardinal Newman. In his sermon he said: "He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness."
Following the Mass the Pope was driven to the San Filippo Neri Oratory in nearby Edgbaston. After having lunch he gave a speech to the Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland in the chapel.
He again returned to the theme of child abuse and told them that the "shameful mistreatment of children and young people by priests" was something that "seriously undermines the moral credibility of church leaders".
He added that he knew the bishops had "taken serious steps to ensure children are protected from harm and to deal properly and transparently with allegations as they arise". …