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Pope Benedict Makes Pilgrimage to Austrian Shrine


Thousands of devout Catholics have joined Pope Benedict in a rain-drenched pilgrimage to Austria's revered Mariazell shrine.

An estimated 30,000 people came Saturday to see the pope at the 850-year-old basilica on a hill about a 100 kilometers southwest of Vienna in the Danube region.

During an open-air Mass, the pope told the wet and chilled crowd that Europe's future would be bleak without more children, and he called on Europeans to embrace faith.

The pope's pilgrimage to the historic Mariazell shrine is the focus of his three-day visit to Austria.

He also decried Europe's declining birth rates on Friday in Vienna at the start of his visit.

On Sunday, the pontiff is to celebrate Mass at Vienna's St. Stephen's cathedral. He is scheduled to visit the Heiligenkreutz abbey outside the capital before returning to Rome.

Pope Benedict on Friday paid a tribute to some 65,000 Austrian victims of the Holocaust at a monument in Vienna's Judenplatz. At the start of his trip, he expressed "sadness, repentance and friendship" to the Jewish people.

Austria is a mostly Catholic country, but the number of people attending church has fallen sharply in recent years. Many Austrian Catholics are upset by priest sex scandals and a government-imposed church tax.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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