.- The city of Cologne has been invaded by fervent, joyful and energetic Catholic youth—405,000 of them. Pilgrims are everywhere in the German city—in the streets, parks, subways, trains and churches—to celebrate World Youth Day (WYD) 2005, from Aug. 16 to Aug. 21. This morning, the platforms of the city’s train and subway stations were congested with pilgrims singing and chanting. This exuberance is likely to continue for the rest of the week. At Cologne’s central station, one group of about 25 Namibians danced in a circle and sang in harmony while other pilgrims took photos and video footage.
“We had to come here,” one Namibian pilgrim told CNA, explaining why her group of 100 young people decided to undertake the journey to Cologne from Africa. “We had to come to this international event that celebrates the universality of the Church.”
On another platform, French pilgrims were chanting Alleluia. Outside the station, Peruvian and Argentinean pilgrims cheered as they each took turns singing hymns.
The enthusiasm has been mounting all week. At a press conference earlier today, Msgr. Heiner Koch said police had told him that things were proceeding smoothly in the city yesterday and that everything was calm. “You haven’t been in the churches!” he told the officers, referring to the lively and packed celebrations that have been taking place in the last few days.
The young people seemed to be gearing up for the official opening of WYD 2005 this afternoon. Three masses will be celebrated in three of the larger cities of the archdiocese, where most of the pilgrims are staying.
More than 50,000 pilgrims will fill the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne for the opening mass with the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meiser. Another 51,000 will attend mass with Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, in Dusseldorf, a municipality just north of Cologne, at the LTU Arena. The third mass at the Hofgarten in Bonn, located south of Cologne, will be celebrated by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, president of the German bishops’ Commission for Youth. The third venue can also accommodate more than 50,000 people.
The 405,000 registered pilgrims are staying in and around the three municipalities. While many have been given lodging by host families, most are staying in schools, convents, church halls and other institutions until the end of the week.