Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased to be with you this evening in Cologne, a city that I love for the many memories which it evokes for me. For a number of years I lived in the neighbouring city of Bonn as a professor, and from there I would often come to Cologne where I had many friends. It was, I am convinced, by a special design of Providence that I soon became a friend of the then Archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Frings, who gave me his full confidence and called me to be his theologian for the Second Vatican Council, which meant that I was able to play an active part in that historic event. I also came to know his successor, Cardinal Joseph Höffner, with whom I was associated for many years, first as a fraternal colleague in the German Bishops’ Conference and later through working together for various offices of the Roman Curia. Your present Archbishop, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, is a good friend of mine, and I thank him for his warm words of welcome and for his hard work over the past months in preparing for World Youth Day. I also wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the President of the German Bishops’ Conference, for all his dedication, and through him I thank the Bishops and all those involved in marshalling the different sectors of the Church in this country for today’s great ecclesial event. I am grateful to all those who for many months have been preparing for this important moment, so eagerly awaited: in particular, the Planning Committee in Cologne, but also the Dioceses and local communities which have welcomed the young people in recent days. I can well imagine what all of this entails in terms of energy spent and sacrifices accepted, and I pray that it will bear abundant fruit in the spiritual success of this World Youth Day. Finally I cannot fail to express my profound gratitude to the civil and military authorities, the leaders of the city and region, and the police and security forces of Germany and North Rhine-Westphalia. In the person of the Mayor I thank the people of Cologne for their understanding in the face of this "invasion" by so many young people from all over the world.
The city of Cologne would not be what it is without the Magi, who have had so great an impact on its history, its culture and its faith. Here, in some sense, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany every day of the year! And so, before addressing you in the presence of this magnificent Cathedral, I paused for a moment of prayer before the reliquary of the three Magi and gave thanks to God for their witness of faith, hope and love. The relics of the Magi were brought from Milan in 1164 by the Archbishop of Cologne, Reinald von Dassel; after crossing the Alps, they were received in Cologne with great jubilation. On their pilgrimage across Europe the relics of the Magi left traces behind them which are still evident today, both in place names and in popular devotions. In honour of the Magi the inhabitants of Cologne produced the most exquisite reliquary of the whole Christian world and, as if that were not sufficient, they raised above it an even greater reliquary, this stupendous Gothic Cathedral which, after the ravages of war, once more stands before visitors in all the splendour of its beauty. Along with Jerusalem the "Holy City", Rome the "Eternal City" and Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Cologne, thanks to the Magi, has become down the centuries one of the most important places of pilgrimage in the Christian West.
Yet Cologne is not just the city of the Magi. It has been deeply marked by the presence of many saints; these holy men and women, through the witness of their lives and the imprint they left on the history of the German people, have helped Europe to grow from Christian roots. I think above all of the martyrs of the first centuries, like young Saint Ursula and her companions, who, according to tradition, were martyred under Diocletian. How can one fail to remember Saint Boniface, the Apostle of Germany, whose election as Bishop of Cologne in 745 was confirmed by Pope Zachary? The name of Saint Albert the Great is also linked to this city; his body rests nearby in the crypt of the Church of Saint Andrew. In Cologne Saint Thomas Aquinas was a disciple of Saint Albert and later a professor. Nor can we forget Blessed Adolph Kolping, who died in Cologne in 1865; from a shoemaker he became a priest and founded many social initiatives, especially in the area of professional training. Closer to our own times, our thoughts turn to Edith Stein, the eminent twentieth-century Jewish philosopher who entered the Carmelite Convent in Cologne taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and later died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Pope John Paul II canonized her and declared her a co-patroness of Europe, together with Saint Bridget of Sweden and Saint Catherine of Siena.
In these and all the other saints, both known and unknown, we discover the deepest and truest face of this city and we become aware of the legacy of values handed down to us by the generations of Christians who have gone before us. It is a very rich legacy. We need to be worthy of it. It is a responsibility of which the very stones of the city’s ancient buildings remind us. Indeed it is these spiritual values that make possible mutual comprehension between individuals and peoples, between different cultures and civilizations. In this context, I offer a warm greeting to the representatives of the different Christian denominations and those from other religions. I thank all of you for your presence in Cologne at this great gathering, in the hope that it will mark a step forward on the path towards reconciliation and unity. For Cologne does not speak to us of Europe alone; it opens us to the universality of the Church and of the world. Here, one of the three Magi was seen as a Moorish King, and, as such, the representative of the continent of Africa. Here, according to tradition, Saint Gereon and his companions of the Theban Legion died as martyrs. Irrespective of the strictly historical reliability of these traditions, the centuries-old devotion towards those saints testifies to the universal outlook and openness of the faithful of Cologne and, in a wider sense, of the Church which emerged in Germany through Saint Boniface’s apostolic activity. This openness has been confirmed in recent years by great charitable initiatives such as Misereor, Adveniat, Missio and Renovabis. Themselves originating in Cologne, these societies have brought the love of Christ to all continents.
Now you yourselves are here, dear young people from throughout the world. You represent those distant peoples who came to know Christ through the Magi and who were brought together as the new People of God, the Church, which gathers men and women from every culture. Today it is your task to live and breathe the Church’s universality. Let yourselves be inflamed by the fire of the Spirit, so that a new Pentecost will renew your hearts. Through you, may other young people everywhere come to recognize in Christ the true answer to their deepest aspirations, and may they open their hearts to receive the Word of God Incarnate, who died and rose from the dead for the salvation of the world.