.- After three years of careful planning, World Youth Day 2005 has finally arrived, and the German bishops agree that the international event will be profound for the Church in Germany, in Europe and around the world.
“This spiritual event is meant to bring to life and joy in the faith and to show that faith has a very important place in our society,” said Cardinal Joachim Meisner at the opening press conference in Cologne today.
The archbishop of Cologne and Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, both expressed trust and confidence in the young pilgrims and their ability to witness to the Gospel.
“World Youth Day is among the largest gatherings in the whole world,” Cardinal Lehmann said in his remarks. “It shows that we must not withdraw into our small church communities” but be open to the larger Church.
He believes that people can learn a lot about faith and about life from the young pilgrims. In particular, he mentioned that pilgrims from developing countries could offer important insights and new perspectives.
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, president of the German bishops’ Commission for Youth, commented on the Days of Encounter that preceded the gathering in Cologne. About 120,000 young people from 170 countries were hosted in parishes across Germany. There, they shared the cultural and spiritual life of their host community.
Bishop Bode remarked that the pilgrims left an important mark on the German communities that hosted them.
“New friendships were made … and communities experienced new ways of expressing faith,” he said.
He spoke of the 4,300 social service projects in which the young pilgrims participated during these Days of Encounter. He spoke as well, of the enthusiasm and profound faith expressed at the send-off masses, held in each German diocese, before the pilgrims left for Cologne. Each mass gathered between 5,000 and 20,000 pilgrims.
The bishops thanked the German people for the warm welcome they have extended to pilgrims and their great hospitality. But, close to the end of the press conference, Cardinal Meisner took it one step further and invited the German people to go with the flow of the Spirit.
“In Germany we have a tendency to plan everything,” he said. “Let’s let things happen now and let the Holy Spirit take over.”