.- Yvonne Aquino, Aldo Polo and Jorge Rodriguez never thought they would make a two-week pilgrimage to World Youth Day (WYD) 2005 in Cologne, Germany.
But about a year ago, the parishes of St. Johann and St. Marien in Donaueschingen, located in southern Germany, informed Cristo Redentor Parish in Trujillo, Peru, that they had funds to welcome three young people for WYD, Aug. 16-21.
The three young Peruvians accepted the invitation and were hosted in the small German town for one week, prior to WYD, to participate in the Days of Encounter with another 33 French-speaking Canadian youth.
The Days of Encounter is an opportunity for pilgrims to share in the life of a German parish community for a few days, learn about the culture, and grow in faith. The Days of Encounter are not new to the WYD program; they have existed since WYD 1997.
From Aug. 11 to Aug. 14, the pilgrims in Donaueschingen followed a tight program, which included daily morning prayer and mass, as well as a visit of the town. Pilgrims gathered for community meals every day and were offered the possibility to tour some historic sites.
Activities differed in each German parish. The local press has been reporting on the presence of young Catholics—some from as far away as Zimbabwe, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka—in parish communities across the country. Their reports often portray the fervent faith of the young pilgrims.
The three Peruvian pilgrims in Donaueschingen commented on the warm welcome of the German people and noted the absence of young people at mass and church prayer services.
“Young people are needed in the Church,” lamented Rodriguez. “It is necessary for the Church to be young now.”
The 25-year-old works in a shoe factory in Trujillo and lives in the slums just outside the city. He said he hopes to return to his community after WYD and be “a living example…and witness of Christ’s word” to others.
“My faith holds an important place in my heart and I want it to grow,” he said, explaining why he accepted the invitation to attend WYD.
“I hope to learn a lot,” said Aquino, referring to the upcoming events in Cologne with Pope Benedict XVI. “I hope to progress in my spiritual life and I hope it helps me to become a better person.”
The 28-year-old catechist and obstetrician said her experience in the 22,000-member town demonstrated to her the grandeur of God. “We have so many differences and we speak different languages, but we all believe in one God. God has blessed us this week. He has shown us that he wants us to open our minds and our hearts,” she said.
For the last 15 years, the two German parishes, numbering no more than 7,800 people, has been linked with the Cristo Redentor Parish through a development program called “Partnerschaft.” Though small, the German parishes have managed to support several community development projects at Cristo Redentor. The first project was a bakery. The most recent project was a community center.
The encounter this week was significant since most of the German parishioners had never met young people from their twin parish in Peru.
Edith Lienhard, her husband and three children hosted one of the 33 Canadian pilgrims from Montreal. She commented on how the pilgrims’ stay in Donaueshingen united the two parishes, which mostly had worked separately in the past.
“There are many struggles and problems in Donaueschingen,” she said, “but [since the pilgrims have come] things are a little bit better these days.”
Lienhard, a chemical engineer, said she and her family received much from the WYD experience in her town.
“I have seen the real gift of welcoming somebody,” she said, adding that each time she hosts someone in her home “it opens my heart again and again.”