World Youth Day 2005
World Youth Day 2005
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Saturday, August 20, 2005, Marienfeld

Departing from the SchützenheimArriving at St. Matthias06:00, Schützenheim: Jörg and Jenny wake us up with music from the Bläck Fööss - nothing better than Kölsche cheerfulness to get you going early in the morning! Getting ready is just a matter of minutes, since I have a washroom to myself (as opposed to the 16 girls). Then, we pack up our stuff, say thanks and goodbye to our hosts and head over to St. Matthias for the morning mass and breakfast.

08:00, St. Matthias: We begin the day with an international morning mass. Again, the various groups contribute to the service with songs and readings in their own languages. The service concludes with the pilgrims thanking the parishioners for their hospitality, who in turn thank the international guests for enriching the parish life by sharing their culture and faith. I have only been here for one evening, but I can tell that both the hosts and the guests enjoyed the past week tremendously and forged many new friendships.

09:00: After the service, I pick up my alter server's robe from the sacristy. Since it was hard to find a robe of my size in Leipzig on short notice, the sacristan of my home parish St. Marien in Haltern had been so kind to mail one over to St. Matthias just in the nick of time. Happy that it all worked out, I go down to the parish hall for breakfast. Our untiring hosts not only have bread, cereal, yoghurt and fruit in store, but also lunch packs for later. Soon, the different groups are saying farewell and getting on their way to the Marienfeld - a recultivated strip-mining area south-west of Cologne that is going to be the site of the WYD's closing celebrations.

Morning mass Morning mass Breakfast Breakfast Departing from St. Matthias Departing from St. Matthias

09:45, Bus Stop Höfer Weg: An estimated 800,000+ pilgrims will descend on the Marienfeld this weekend, travelling by public, charter or shuttle bus, train, bike or on foot from host parishes all over the archdiocese of Cologne. I had originally planned to take the regional train from Leverkusen to Horrem (the train station closest to the Marienfeld) and walk the rest of the way. However, since I figure that most pilgrims will have that same plan, I decide to take a shuttle bus with the group from the Sauerland instead. According to our PDF shuttle map, bus stops are scattered throughout the Cologne area, but getting to the closest one is a non-trivial challenge: We'll have to take a public bus to Leverkusen-Schlebusch, then the tram to Köln-Bocklemünd, then the shuttle bus to the Marienfeld. Unfortunately, the first bus to Schlebusch is so full that the driver refuses to let us board. While we wait for the next bus, the girls pass the time with singing. Once we're on the next bus, figuring out where to get off again becomes a gamble, since the driver and four passengers all give different advice.

10:50, Tram 4 Schlebusch-Bocklemünd: It seems that we took the right advice - after getting off at Nittumer Weg, we just had to walk 400 meters to the Schlebusch tram stop. Other groups are joining us; a Canadian group is even dropped off by two huge firetrucks. Fortunately, Schlebusch is a terminal stop, so we can board an empty tram. Still, when everyone's aboard, the carriages seem pretty full already. However, during the 45-minute ride on line 4 that takes us right through central Cologne before heading out to the other terminus at Bocklemünd, more and more pilgrims are boarding. Conversations in English, French, Russian, Italian, German and many other languages are buzzing in the air, and I'm sitting with a woman from South Africa and a girl from Australia discussing the upcoming WYD in Sydney.

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Waiting at Höfer Weg bus stop

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Canadian group at Schlebusch tram stop

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On tram 4 to Bocklemünd

11:45, Shuttle Bus A4 to Frechen: At Bocklemünd, the pilgrims are streaming from the arriving trams right into the waiting shuttle buses, which depart every minute. The ride to the Marienfeld takes about 45 minutes. As we get closer, the streets become almost devoid of cars, but full of shuttle buses and coaches. A look at the license plates gives the impression that every bus company in Northrhine-Westphalia has dispatched vehicles to Cologne this weekend. Within a 10 km (6.3 mile) radius around the Marienfeld, the police closed all roads for non-residents to keep the way clear for shuttle and emergency services. Even a long stretch of the autobahn A1 has been closed in order to serve as charter bus parking area and emergency access route.

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On shuttle bus A4 to Marienfeld

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Approaching the shuttle stop

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Shuttle Stop A

12:30, Footpath B264: We get off at shuttle stop A near Frechen, and realize that what we've seen on the tram does not really qualify as a "crowd" compared to the scores of people who are embarking on the last leg of their pilgrimage here. A look at our PDF footpath map reveals that we are not quite there yet - we still have a 4 km (2.5 miles) hike along the closed-off Bundesstraße B264 to the Marienfeld ahead of us. Despite the long walk with the heavy backpacks, it is a unique experience to be part of this seemingly endless trek of young people waving flags and banners, playing instruments, singing and chanting.

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Shuttle Stop A

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B264/L103 crossroads

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A group from Corsica

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The stream of pilgrims...

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...reaches as far as the eye can see.

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13:45: Taking a break on the roadside

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A mobile guitar quartet

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Congestion at a shortcut

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14:55: Another break near Kerpen

15:45, Marienfeld, Gate 2: After a good three-hour hike, we reach the Marienfeld, and once again we have to redefine our concept of "crowd": The hordes of pilgrims streaming in through eight gates spill into a PDF plain of 260 hectares (642 acres, 2.6 km2, 1 square mile or 353 soccer fields) that is subdivided by gravel roads into a matrix of over 100 grass areas measuring roughly 100x100 m (110x110 yards) each. All the way up to the horizon, the roads and greens are filled with people carrying backpacks, people spreading tarps and camping mats, people putting up flags and banners, people eating, people lining up for bathrooms, people talking, people watching huge video screens, people resting on their sleeping bags... we're stunned.

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Approaching Marienfeld Gate 2

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No space for us in area C12

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Area C8 with distant altar stage

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Spanish group in area C13

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Inofficial overflow area south of sections C and D

16:10, Area C12: The Sauerland group has been assigned to area C12, but when we arrive, it is already covered with camping mats so densely that it's virtually impossible to spot any grass in between. Since I figure that my area B23 won't look much better, we decide to look for an alternative site together - not an easy task for a group of 16! By this time, people are actually starting to camp in a huge undesignated section south-east of the official areas, even though it is unmown and there is no infrastructure (roads, water, toilets, lights) at all. We're splitting up into two groups to find a good spot - i.e. a site that is large enough for all of us, not too muddy, and reasonably close to one of the video screens. 32 of those (according to some news reports, that's about all the mobile screens available in Europe) have been erected all over the Marienfeld to show what's going on at the altar stage, which sits on top of a green hill at the nortern edge of the field. Right now, Father Manfred Kollig from Werne, the WYD's liturgical director, is being interviewed - unfortunately I can't watch since I'm too preoccupied with finding a campsite.

17:00, Area D7: Just when half of our group has settled down in a corner of area D9, the other half finds an even better spot in D7, so we wrap all our already unpacked stuff into my large blue tarp and carry it over there across the bustling roads. We settle down for good in a sufficiently spacious and dry spot of D7, just a few dozen meters from the next video screen, and just across the road from water taps and toilets. Even though it looks pretty far out on the map, we're content since any area closer to the stage would not mean better view, but only thicker crowds and longer lines.

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German group in the overflow area

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Altar Stage from area C8

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Canadian group in area D8

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Asian group in area D9

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Water taps in area D9

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Candle basin at area D9

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Blimp over area D7

17:30, Center of Adoration: After dropping off my stuff at our final site, I rush over to the Center of Adoration in order to get my instructions for altar service. The roads are still packed with people looking for sites or getting food packs, so it takes me about 15 minutes to walk eight blocks west. Occasionally, ambulances make their way through the crowds, but even with sirens blasting, they can only crawl at pedestrian speed. The altar server desk turns out to be an unmarked blue container that I notice only because of the crowd of people with altar server passes surrounding it. After about 20 minutes of pushing back and forth (one should think that altar servers can stand in line in a more civilized way), I receive five candles and a lighter to help people ignite their vigil candles tonight. Each area is assigned ten candle servers, but since the only remaining areas are around F20 on the far west side of the Marienfeld, I take my cue from two girls in the queue in front of me and ask to be assigned to the inofficial section just south of our site. "There really are people over there too?", the candle-distributing volunteer asks incredulously. Indeed there are - hundreds actually, and they don't even have electric lighting.

18:30, Area D7: With my candles and instructions for tomorrow, I return to our site in D7 and at last find the time to unpack my stuff. Renate has gone out for food and doesn't return until two hours later - empty-handed though, since the lines at the catering stations were endless... before they ran out of stock. Fortunately, we still have enough for supper in our backpacks, but we're wondering where we'll find food for Sunday (today's catering ration was supposed to last for two days). Oh well - at least, the cloud cover has openend up meanwhile, and we enjoy the warming rays of the orange evening sun in the blue sky.

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International groups in area D7

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The Sauerland group...

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...has settled down in D7 at last.

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Enjoying the evening sun before the vigil

20:00: We fill the time until the vigil talking, listening to the music from the stage programme, and exploring our neighbourhood. The jumbo screens show amazing aerial images of the Marienfeld, taken from a blimp circling overhead and a remote-controlled camera running back and forth on an 800 m (0.5 mile) long cableway suspended from cranes 70 m (230 ft) above sections A and B - but even from those angles, it's virtually impossible to capture the whole crowd in one frame. At 8 p.m., cheers suddenly erupt across the Marienfeld as the video image switches to Pope Benedict XVI arriving in his armored popemobile. The One World Choir intones the XX World Youth Day's theme song "Venimus Adorare Eum - We have come to worship Him" (Christ, not the Pope!), amplified crystal-clearly by 100 loudspeaker towers forming Europe's largest public address system and the voices of 800,000 pilgrims joining in.

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DHL/WYD blimp overhead

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View of altar stage from area D7

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Waiting for the beginning of the vigil

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Pope Benedict XVI arrives

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"The Sauerland greets the Pope"

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Waving to the Pope

20:30: The vigil begins with powerful music such as the WYD classic "Jesus Christ, You Are My Life". In his address to the pilgrims, Benedict XVI then recounts the journey of the Magi from the East, the first pilgrims who came to adore Christ. In explaining what their example means for Christians today, he acknowledges that "there is much that could be criticized in the Church", but also commemorates "such figures as St Benedict, St Francis of Assisi, St Teresa of Avila, St Ignatius of Loyola, St Charles Borromeo, the founders of 19th-century religious orders who inspired and guided the social movement, or the saints of our own day - Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Mother Teresa, Padre Pio." In the spirit of John Paul II, he holds that these saints "reveal the true face of the Church" and urges Christians "to take our place, with all our faults and weaknesses, in the procession of the saints that began with the Magi from the East."

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Benedict XVI opens the vigil

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The One World Choir is singing...

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..."Jesus Christ, You Are My Life"

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Gospel procession

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Pilgrims in area D8

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View from the overflow area

21:30, Overflow Area: As the vigil continues with readings, songs, prayers and even some show elements like a fire juggler, I'm heading out to the overflow area with my candles and lighter. We've been instructed to pass the light on to people as soon as the juggler gets on stage - however, I soon realize that's futile because most people have lit their candles at the beginning of the vigil already. In the half hour that I'm wandering around the almost dark overflow area, I actually manage to light a single candle that's not burning yet.

22:10, Between Sections B and E: From the dark depths of the overflow area, I slowly pick my way back to the illuminated part of the Marienfeld through a maze of tarps and camping mats, trying not to step on people's sleeping bags or trip over tent lines - fortunately, I brought my LED headlight and my own vigil candle. While the vigil is progressing, I walk all the way around sections C and B to get a grasp of how vast this place is. I soon give up trying to meet Marco from Haltern who has been volunteering at the WYD all week and is also somewhere around here tonight, because it's virtually impossible to coordinate a meeting when the cellular network is congested by so many mobile phones in so little space (every pilgrim has an average space of 0.70 m2 (7.5 square feet)).

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Candle basin

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Around sections B and E

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Around sections B and E

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Area B14

23:00, Between Sections B and C: B12 is as close as I get to the altar stage; beyond that, the crowds become unsurpassable, and volunteers are cordoning off the areas to prevent more people from pushing in front of the stage. The vigil concludes with the veneration of the Sacred Host, and for a few minutes, the whole plains fall eerily silent in prayer.

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Altar stage from area B12

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American group in area C5

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Spanish group dancing in area C1

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Pilgrims are praying...

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...all over the Marienfeld...

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...during the conclusion of the vigil.

Getting ready to sleep23:30, Area D7: After the vigil, I return to our site - actually, I have some trouble finding it since the area looks completely transformed now that it's dark, hundreds of candles are burning, and tents have been put up all over the place (even though it's officially forbidden for safety reasons). I find my camping mat and sleeping bag wet with evening dew - I don't want to think about what would happen if it really were to rain. Fortunately, the sky doesn't look like it will tonight.

With our minds full of the impressions of the day, we are crawling into our sleeping bags, and soon, the throbbing drums of a group that's dancing on the nearby road all night lull everybody to sleep.

The sounds and atmosphere of the vigil are also captured extremely well by Fr. Roderick's Catholic Insider podcast.

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© 2005 Matthias Book