.- On Monday, St. Peter's Square and the streets of Rome were already teeming with youth from many places in Europe who have come to the Eternal City as part of an altar server pilgrimage. Organizers explained in a press conference that they have a record turnout, despite any problems in the European Church.
Young people representing 17 countries and numbering more than 50,000, will celebrate two days of events in Rome. The Aug. 3-4 schedule includes talks, prayers, singing and time with the Pope for the thousands of altar servers.
Speaking to journalists at Vatican Radio's headquarters, the leaders of the European association of altar servers, Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium (CIM), noted that the turnout was unaffected by any so-called "crisis" within the Church.
The majority of participants come from Germany, according to organizers, who explained that much is being done in the country to provide for the safety of their youth. Out of the 52,904 European male and female servers involved in the pilgrimage, more than 45,000 come from Germany. Italy, Austria and Hungary are the next three largest contributors.
"This pastoral ministry is very important and the young people are glad to be here," said CIM vice president and lead organizer of âRoma 2010" Dr. Peter Hahnen in a translation provided by Swiss emcee Claudio Tomassini. "Their parents are confident that the people in charge will do everything to ensure the safety of the youth."
Tomassini noted that this is the best turnout they've ever had for the Rome pilgrimage, which takes place every 4-5 years.
The president of CIM, Auxiliary Bishop of Basil, Martin GÃ¤chter, also explained that the organization is celebrating 50 years of offering the European dioceses "experiences and the drive" to promote altar serving.
Youth ministry for altar servers is "possible and important for every parish," and through their service, they "develop their personality, deepen their faithâ and experience good friendships with other boys and girls, Bishop GÃ¤chter said.
Also taking part in the press conference was artist Bernhard Lang, who created a 15-foot tall sculpture of the young Roman St. Tarcisus now on display in St. Peter's Square. The 12-year-old acolyte, who is one of the patron saints of altar servers, was killed as he attempted to take the Eucharist to prisoners.
The highlights of the young pilgrims' time in Rome, said the organizers, will be Vespers in the Vatican square on Tuesday evening and the papal audience in the same venue on Wednesday morning.