The pilgrimage that brought altar boys and girls to Rome en masse this week concluded on a high note at Wednesday's general audience. Bringing tens of thousands of young people together in what appeared to be a small scale World Youth Day, the event showed the true colors of Church and the communion of its youth.
The final tally of participants included well over 50,000 young people from at least 17 European countries, who took over St. Peter's Square during Wednesday's general audience with the Pope. The altar servers were seen dancing, singing and generally enjoying the culminating event of their pilgrimage to Rome, organized by the Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium (CIM).
Youth from each country represented were distinguishable by the color of their pilgrims' scarves. By far, the dominant shade seen in the square and all over the city in the last three days was the German participants' vanilla-colored scarves, one of which CIM president Bishop Martin Gächter offered to Pope Benedict XVI during the audience.
Austrian pilgrims with their yellow scarves were the second-most visible, while the 18 Lithuanians in pink and the six Albanians wearing blue were a much rarer sight among the over 80,000 total audience attendees.
More than 25,000 people who were not directly involved in the pilgrimage were also there to be with the Pope for a little over an hour.
Flags from Europe and many countries besides waved ceaselessly during the audience, which was described in the context of the greater pilgrimage by L'Osservatore Romano editor Gian Vian as an "extraordinary Catholic party."
The colorful and happy gathering resembled the World Youth Day 2010 celebration that drew 70,000 young people when Benedict XVI hosted the event in St. Peter's Square last March.
Many in the media have referred to the event as proof that the Catholic Church is strong even though it is enduring scandal.
However, Bishop Gächter, in his words to Pope Benedict at the beginning of the audience, commented on the meaning of the pilgrimage through the eyes of the youth. He said simply, "Here in Rome, we have learned to better know our communion of faith," a reality witnessed these days on the streets of the city.