.- World Youth Day (WYD) 2005 officially began yesterday afternoon with the opening masses in three large stadiums in Cologne and the surrounding region.
More than 100,000 pilgrims attended the mass with Bishop Franz-Josef Bode at the Hofgarten in Bonn. The masses at the Rhein-Energie Stadium with Cardinal Joachim Meisner and at the LTU Arena with Cardinal Karl Lehmann counted more than 50,000 people each.
The pilgrims’ cheering and singing before and after the mass at the Rhein-Energie Stadium was deafening. Pilgrims began streaming in at about 3 p.m. Once there, they waved flags, chanted, and danced to the music provided by performers.
They were equally enthusiastic as they welcomed Cardinal Meisner, about another 20 bishops and more than 100 priests for the 5 p.m. mass. The WYD Cross was processed to the stage and placed behind the altar.
Once the multilingual mass began, however, pilgrims quickly became attentive and adopted a quiet, prayerful spirit.
The homily of each celebrant focused on the theme of vocations and God’s personal call for each individual.
WYD is for the whole world
“We are celebrating the first World Youth Day with two Popes: with Pope John Paul II in heaven above, and with our Pope Benedict XVI here on earth. What an amazing celebration of faith this will be!” Cardinal Meisner told the young people, who broke out in cheers and applause.
“You, dear brothers and sisters, have been drawn by the Father,” the cardinal said in his homily. “That is the ultimate reason why you are here in Cologne.
“Your presence here is the result of an act of mercy by God. And I promise you sincerely: He will therefore remain your leader. He will turn you into a blessing for your environment, your fatherland, for the whole world, and guide you in bringing the world closer to God,” he said.
“World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne is not just a purely Catholic event,” he said. “It concerns the whole world. Christ is not a Christian property agent—he is the Lord of the world. And this week, we will be searching for Christ not just for our own benefit, but especially for that of our other brothers and sisters so that they may experience the joy of faith in Christ.
In Düsseldorf, Cardinal Lehmann remarked on the number of young people who continue to attend WYD, even 20 years after it was initiated.
He urged young people to develop the ability to distinguish those signs that come from the Holy Spirit and those that originate from within oneself or in one’s environment.
“There are indeed many different callings that we hear in the bustle of many voices,” he said. “The calling of God always demands courage precisely because he means exactly us, without us being able to change or trade places”.
‘Lamp of God’ shines still in youth’
At the Hofgarten in Bonn, Bishop Bode shared the German people’s desire to journey with the young pilgrims in faith.
“The lamp of God is not yet extinguished. And this week you are showing the whole Church and the whole world that the Church is alive and that young people are willing to listen to God,” he said.
“You have come from over 160 countries around the globe; you have come to our Europe, to our country, where Christ is not always easy to find and where one can easily lose sight of the star,” he said.
“But we in Germany will not be your ‘Jerusalem’, your Herod, or your scribes, who knew where the Christ child was, but did not themselves set out to find Him, preferring instead to stay in their towers of power and knowledge.
“No, we in Germany want to walk with you, want to set out with you, want to seek and find with you, want to let ourselves be guided by the star that God has shown us, and want to go with you to Bethlehem to find Christ,” he continued
During the offertory procession in Cologne, young people brought objects that represented the life of the region: coal to represent the importance of the mining industry in the region; a small barrel of beer to represent the fruit of the harvest; a typical hat used during carnival to represent the people’s spirit of celebration; and bread and vegetables to represent what the young people would like to give to those in need.
The pilgrims began their festive singing and dancing at the end of the nearly two-hour mass. They took their celebration onto the streets, and packed the trains, buses and tramcars to return to their lodging.
At one point, the public transportation system gave out under the pressure and vehicles stood at a standstill for long periods of time. It took some pilgrims more than three hours to return to their lodging.