.- As almost 1 million young people from around the world gather in Cologne, Germany this week to see Pope Benedict XVI and celebrate their Catholic faith, a hearty group from the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota has joined them in what many are calling the experience of a lifetime.
Fargo’s Bishop Samuel J. Aquila, is one of over 70 bishops from the U.S. who have made the trek to the 20th World Youth Day, an event established in 1985 by the late Pope John Paul II.
Bishop Aquila told the youth from his diocese gathered in Cologne that he hopes that WYD “will be a deep experience of faith for you in which you will be able to see visibly the universality of our faith.”
He recalled that yesterday afternoon, when he “was having lunch, I overheard one of the workers state to one of the people who was there that this was the most multicultural event he had ever experienced in his life. Then he said, ‘I can’t believe how these young people get along with each other and speak to each other. It is like they are all friends.’”
“That says a tremendous amount for the gift of our Catholic faith,” the bishop said. “The only reason that we are here is because of our Catholic faith and our deep love of Christ and of the Eucharist"
“Most of all,” he told the young people, “I pray that you will discover the depth of God’s love for you and especially the love of Christ and the Church for you.”
Caitlin Loney, one of the attendees from West Fargo, ND, told the diocese that “It was just an overwhelming feeling to walk in there to the opening ceremonies yesterday and to hear them singing and it was like I was just back at home again at World Youth Day.”
Jessica Bittner of Devil’s Lake, ND agrees. She said that “One of my favorite parts so far has been the Mass that was said in all the different languages ‘cause it’s neat to see how the Mass is the same all the way around the world. Even if you can’t understand what they’re saying, you know what’s going on.”
The over 100 young people from North Dakota are part of 24,000 youth from the U.S. taking part in the week-long celebration.
Chaperone Kristi Shypkowski, of Fargo, said that she “really liked it [Tuesday] night when, on the screens they were showing in the other Mass, in the stadium, when they were bringing in the picture of the Madonna and the cross, and the crowd was just cheering. It just was really inspiring to see all the young people just cheering and celebrating their Catholic faith like that.”
Sean Zimprich from Aneta, ND expressed awe at the universality of the Church that he has experienced.
“I have seen so many different cultures and they all speak different languages. Even though we’re different, we still understand everybody just because we’re the same faith. It’s quite an experience,” he said. “Awesome!”