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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Two Popes at World Youth Day

Dear Friends,

Alright, it is finally Thursday, the day we have been waiting for. Thousands line the banks of the Rhine on a sunny day in August in Cologne. Benedict XVI has been pope for less than 4 months as he arrives. The big question: will he attract and engage the hundreds of thousands of young people his successor and founder of World Youth Day did over the last twenty years? This morning Pope Benedict met with 12 young people for lunch. A special diet had been prepared for him. He told the servers he wanted to eat what the 12 young guests were eating. This was reported around and got him off to a good start with young people and the the press. We will see how he does with the hundreds of thousands gathered to hear him and see him.

As he makes his way up the Rhine on an excursion boat, the pope waves to people on the banks. some spectators get so excited as his boat nears that they leap into the Rhine. One is a young monk in full habit from the Bronx who will remain nameless.

Now I am in the square in front of the cathedral with Mrs. Clarence Gilyard, aka Elena, Rachel, Paul and Clarence and the 2 year-old prince Maximilian. Father Bartley joins us for a bit. We beg the security people to let us though so we can get closer. They look at the child in the stroller, the priests begging, and I think they are moved more by the child than the sight of grown men crying and they allow us through. At first the press of the crowd has been left behind us. We have space to move and breathe and are now much closer to the large screen and the steps where we hope the pope will appear. Jim and Kerri Caviezel and Wolfgang Raach are in another section some distance behind us.

We can see the pope on the large screen as he nears shore and prepares to walk up from the River to the cathedral. The crowd cheers and our section of the plaza, which was very spacious, is now filling with people. They keep coming until we are pressed up against the security barrier. For a while, I am the only thing preventing the crowd from crushing Rachel and Paul as the plaza fills up even more. After about an hour of waiting and cheering and chanting of BE-NE-DET-TO, the Pope suddenly appears in the flesh in front of us, about fifty years away. There are dignitaries and senior clergy accompanying him.

There was robust cheering before but when he is actually before us in the flesh and not just on the screen there is volume and intensity like nothing we have heard up until now. A small man with a shock of white hair in the blazing sun, his voice in German suddenly breaks through the roar of the crowd and is strong and clear. He sounds impressive in German, whatever he is saying. I can understand the French and Spanish along with Englsih. His message plays on the history of Germany going back to the Apostle of Germany, Boniface, who brought Christianity to this country and was martyred like so many other great Christian missionaries. He mentions Blessed Edith Stein, Benedicta, who converted to Catholicism and entered the Carmel in Cologne. A great philospopher, she was executed like so many other Jews and Catholics at Auschwitz. His message to the young people:

"Be not afraid to commit yourself without reserve to serving Christ, whatever the cost. Share your joys and pains with Christ and let Him enlighten your minds with His light and touch your hearts with His grace."

He spoke in several languages and he addressed different continents. His challenge to Asians was powerful: "Young People of Asia, you are the representatives of so many of your brothers and sisters who are waiting for the star to rise in their lives and lead them to Christ. In Him they will find the fullest response to their hearts deepest desires."

My conclusion, this pope will do fine with the young people of the world and he has a real message to deliver.

He gets into the new popemobile and travels through the narrow streets around the cathedral. Everyone gets a chance to see him up close if they are patient. We amke it back to the vehicles and back to Dusseldorf for a late Mass and supper of sub sandwiches.

This was a great day, filled with visits to several churches in Cologne where various religious orders have set up shop and are listening to confessions, sharing prayer before the blessed sacrament and providing encouragement for young men and women to consider the religious life as a vocation. Most appealing of all I would think is the large number of young women and men in full habit obviously enjoying a life dedicated to God and the Church.

Good night and look forward to our special event tomorrow in Dusseldorf.

Fr. Willy

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