- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

COLOGNE, Germany — Hundreds of thousands of youngsters waved national flags, prayed and sang at the latest “Catholic Woodstock” while awaiting Pope Benedict XVI, who today begins a four-day visit to his native Germany.

For nearly 400,000 attending World Youth Day in this Rhineland city, the festival is a time of contemplation, celebration and prayer.

The four-day visit also marks an attempt by the new Roman Catholic leader to inspire young Catholics and draw them back to an ailing church.

Comparisons are inevitable between Benedict and his beloved predecessor, John Paul II, who founded the world youth convention in 1985.

The 78-year-old Benedict told Vatican Radio that he hopes to inspire a “new wave of faith” and show that Christianity brings “zest and joy,” not a heavy load of “rules and prohibitions.”

“I would like to show them how beautiful it is to be Christian, because the widespread idea which continues to exist is that Christianity is composed of laws and bans which one has to keep and, hence, is something toilsome and burdensome,” he said.

Benedict also warned that Europe was caught up in a crisis of “self-pity and self-condemnation” and said he wanted the convention to give “fresh impetus to an old continent” and help it find its roots again.

Benedict’s visit will begin with a ride down the Rhine lined with young pilgrims on its banks, followed by a speech at Cologne Cathedral and meetings with German political officials and religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish and Protestant communities.

He will also meet with small groups of young pilgrims for more informal discussions.

The visit will culminate with an open-air Mass Sunday at a 640-acre field.

Youngsters, eagerly awaiting the pontiff, have already begun the six-day celebration.

On Tuesday, thousands crowded into a Cologne stadium for the opening ceremony which began with a Mass celebrated by the city’s archbishop, Joachim Meisner, who told the pilgrims that they “are the future of the church and the future of the world.”

Cheering youths such as Pauline Revidat, 17, of France, said they were thrilled.

“I never thought I would get a chance such as this to meet others from everywhere and to see the pope,” she said. “It has been a magical atmosphere so far.”

During the convention, the pilgrims begin each day with morning prayers at churches throughout the Archdiocese of Cologne, Germany’s largest diocese and take part in events such as concerts, discussions about religion, sex, AIDS prevention, justice, poetry readings and sports.

Although it is open to anyone from 16 to 30, World Youth Day, which rotates cities every few years, predominantly attracts Catholics from around the world. Nearly 25,000 U.S. youngsters are expected to attend this year, organizers said.

Before becoming pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the champion of doctrinal orthodoxy at the Vatican. He was known for his cool intellectualism, his orthodoxy and his shyness.

He will be under close scrutiny at the convention for what he tells the young Catholics, the more liberal members of the church and those of other faiths and how he does so.

His manner to reach out to the young is particularly important in light of increasingly secularized societies, religious leaders say.

The number of Christians in Western Europe is expected to fall in the next few decades, studies show. In Germany, a 2000 study found that most German youth know little about Christian tenets and rarely attend services, even though 65 percent of German citizens officially belong to a church.

While reaching out to other faiths, some German Protestants have expressed dissatisfaction with the efforts of the pope to be more inclusive. At the same time, they continue to stress that Martin Luther began the Reformation in this country five centuries ago and that today, half of all Germans are not Catholic.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide