BY FIONA BARRY
HUNDREDS of young British Catholics are heading for Germany to attend World Youth Day in Cologne.
The gathering will be led by Pope Benedict XVI and marks his first official visit overseas since he was elected in April.
This year more than 2,000 young English men and women are expected to travel to Cologne – the largestever World Youth Day delegation from England and Wales.
An unprecedented 21 English bishops will also attend the event. Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, who will lead a group of more than 40 young pilgrims from his archdiocese, said: “The events of a World Youth Day present young Roman Catholics with a unique opportunity to experience the Church as truly universal.” A young member of the Liverpool group, Kirsty Macdonald, said: “I went to World Youth Day in Rome in 2000 and it was a lifechanging experience: so many young people all gathered together for one reason, because we are all part of God’s Kingdom.” The Liverpool group set out for Cologne on Tuesday night.
Nearly 70 young people from the Balkans will be able to attend this year’s event thanks to the generosity of Catholics in Britain. On July 15 The Catholic Herald printed an appeal from the Catholic Bishops of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo for money so that young Christians, Jews and Muslims from the region could travel to Cologne.
Fr Michael Seed, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement who led the campaign in Britain, described the response as “fantastic”. He said: “I would like to add deep thanks to those Catholic Herald readers who sent in money. This is not taken for granted.” The Apostolic Nuncio to Serbia and Montenegro, Archbishop Eugenio Sbarbaro, also thanked the British faithful for their kindness.
Across the world, many thousands of young pilgrims have already arrived in Cologne, although WYD does not officially begin until August 16. The event will end on August 21. There will be daily Masses, prayers, dancing, musicals, cultural events and catechises on Catholic faith.
Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his support for those on their way to Cologne. He compared them to the Magi – the wise men who came to adore the baby Jesus. He said: “May [the Virgin Mary] help new generations recognise in Christ the true face of God, to wor ship, love and serve him.” The Pontiff will be present for the last four days of WYD 2005, travelling by river to meet youth groups and visit Cologne Cathedral.
Benedict also plans to call on a synagogue and meet Muslim representatives and German political leaders, including Gerhard Schröder.
On the final night the Pope will join young people for a prayer vigil and will then celebrate a closing Mass the following morning. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor will concelebrate.
The Archbishop of Westminster said: “World Youth Day is an extraordinary opportunity for hundreds of thousands of young people to come together in a joint celebration of faith.
“It is surely providential that this year it should be in Germany, and that Pope Benedict is choosing the occasion for his first foreign trip and return to his native land.” As well as meeting the new Pope, young people will celebrate the life of World Youth Day’s founder, the late John Paul II, by making a mosaic of him using photographs of themselves.
World Youth Day has been described as a mixture of pilgrimage, youth camp and international prayer festival. It is hugely popular: more than four million young Catholics attended WYD 1995 in Manila, reported to be the largest gathering of people in history.
Stefan Neuhoff, head of the Cologne fire department, described preparations for World Youth Day as “the biggest planning challenge since the end of World War II”.
Local public transport will operate rush-hour services throughout the celebrations, using an 140 extra trains.
Travel information will be displayed in many languages, including Latin, to help foreign visitors.
For the final Mass at Marienfeld, 15 miles outside Cologne, 30 miles of new roads have been constructed.
The altar will stand on a 30-foot high “Pope’s Hill” built from gravel.
Mobile telephone companies are creating a new network of transmitters to cope with the expected onslaught of calls and text messages. But they cannot guarantee that the network will not collapse when crowds use their camera-phones to take photographs of the Pope. Deutsche Telekom is offering “sacred” ringtones, including hymns and church bells.
In addition, Sodexho, the catering company, is preparing 100 tons of food for each day.
Organisers have declared that the menu will be international, as local specialities such as sauerkraut might not appeal to all.