.- In 1997, Pope John Paul II told Cologne’s Cardinal Joachim Meisner that he thought it appropriate “that one of the first World Youth Days of the new millennium should be held in Cologne…because last century Germany witnessed some terrible disasters for humanity, and it is right that it should now witness a great sign of hope."
With his words in Toronto in 2002, announcing that the next World Youth Day would be held in Cologne, John Paul set in motion the events which would bring over 1 million young people, accompanied by some 7,000 priests and 700 bishops to Germany.
Established in 1984, the Holy Year of Redemption, in an effort to reaffirm the Church's interest in youth, World Youth Day has been celebrated 19 times, gathering throngs of young people from around the world to hear the Gospel message.
This year‘s theme will be: "We have come to worship Him," the words with which the Wise Men of the Gospel of St. Matthew reveal the reason for their own pilgrimage. Pope John Paul noted in 2002 that, “In the great cathedral of Cologne the relics of the Magi, the Wise Men from the East who followed the star which led them to Christ, are honored."
The World Youth Day trip will be Pope Benedict’s first trip outside of Italy since the beginning of his pontificate in April. Many are looking to his talks in Cologne to get a feel for what will likely be the themes for his new papacy.
While festivities kick off on August 16th, the Holy Father will first greet the young people on August 18th. According to the Vatican, on the evening of August 19, he will participate in the Way of the Cross; on August 20 he will join the participants in a prayer vigil, and on August 21 he will celebrate the event's closing Mass.
The altar at which he will celebrate the Mass sits on a hill overlooking a large field where the pilgrims will gather. It is manmade and composed of earth from all the countries of the world brought by young people who have participated in the preparatory WYD meetings.
Organizers have also noted that during the week, the famous reliquary of the Wise Men will be placed behind the altar in the cathedral, as it was in the Middle Ages, so the pilgrims can see it as they pass and so, in some way, take away with them the blessing of the Three Kings of the East.
Likewise, artists are putting last minute touches on a massive mosaic which will depict the face of the late John Paul II, composed of photographs sent in by young people from all over the world.
While in Cologne, Pope Benedict is scheduled to visit the local synagogue, meet with German civil and religious authorities and travel to the city of Bonn--where he taught theology--to visit with German president Horst Koehler.