World Youth Day 2005
World Youth Day 2005
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Concluding Mass
Sunday, August 21, 2005, Marienfeld

07:00, Marienfeld, Area D7: When we wake up, the surface of our sleeping bags is wet with morning dew, and it's quite cool and misty this early in the morning (I later read reports of people complaining about the low temperatures and about 150 even being treated for hypothermia, but I think the night's 10C (50F) were quite foreseeable and not that cold - people should rather be very happy that they didn't get soaked by rain!). Anyway - quite a few people are already bustling around us, while others are still wrapped tight in their sleeping bags, or warming their hands at rekindled vigil candles. We have bread from the food packs for breakfast while listening to the lauds (the morning prayer) broadcast on the video screens.

08:00, Alley to Altar Hill: After a quick breakfast, it's time for me to get ready for altar service at today's concluding mass. I put on my robe at our campsite, pack an apple and my camera (which is conveniently hidden under the wide vestment), lift up the hem of my black cassock and pick my way across the wet greens to the next road. From there, I can proceed faster, and soon I'm walking towards the altar hill in a cordoned-off alley together with hundreds of white-clad priests (some of whom looking quite peculiar carrying backpacks or camping mats). We pass by the press stands with their impressive array of TV cameras and the stage of the One World Choir, just a few hundred meters to the south-east of the altar hill.

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Waking up on the Marienfeld

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Preparing for altar service

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On the way to the altar stage

09:00, Altar Server's Area: The alley leads to an area in front of sections A and B, right at the foot of the altar hill. Thousands of folding chairs have been put up here in tight rows, about 80% of which are already occupied by priests. The seats in front of area A4 are reserved for altar servers, and I manage to find an empty seat somewhere near the right edge. Some altar service leaders are giving instructions for the mass, trying to shout in German and English over the music from the nearby video screen: After the Lord's Prayer, we're supposed to accompany priests going out to all areas of the Marienfeld to dispense the holy communion to the pilgrims. To protect the priests from rain (and also to make them easier to spot, I guess), we'll carry bright yellow umbrellas... emblazoned with red Sinalco logos, of all things!

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Altar servers in front of the altar hill

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Pope Benedict XVI appears

09:45: 15 minutes before the beginning of the mass, cheers erupt as the video screens switch to an image of Pope Benedict XVI in his popemobile. Just when we're all trying to figure out where he's driving along, the popemobile appears just behind the giant video screen to our right! After driving in the backstage area for a while, the white Mercedes-Benz ML with the characteristic glass box on top turns into the same alley that we've just walked along. As it becomes obvious that the Pope is going to pass right behind our area, just a dozen meters away, the altar servers are on their chairs.

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Benedict XVI greets the pilgrims

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Altar servers on their chairs

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The popemobile passes close by

10:00: While the popemobile slowly makes its way past waving pilgrims, priests and VIPs (the top German politicians have seats in the front rows of area B2 - not quite as close as priests and altar servers, though!), a long line of bishops walks the meandering path up to the top of the hill, where more priests and a small crowd of pilgrims are waiting on stands surrounding the actual altar. On the side, media and security people stand by for the Pope's arrival.

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Bishops on the way to the altar

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Bishops waiting for the Pope

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Pope between VIPs and priests

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The altar hill

10:20: At last, the bible with the gospel is carried up to the altar in a solemn procession, and a few minutes later, the popemobile arrives on top of the hill. Accompanied by chants of "Benedetto! Benedetto!" from the pilgrims (including altar servers), Benedict XVI climbs out of the popemobile, walks over to the altar and blesses the congregation that has grown by a couple hundred thousand more since last night.

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Gospel procession

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Benedict XVI arrives on the hill

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Benedict XVI arrives on the hill

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Altar servers chanting "Benedetto!"

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The Pope blesses the congregation...

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...of more than a million pilgrims.

10:30: The XX World Youth Day's concluding mass begins with a welcome from the archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Cardinal Meisner, who quotes Christ's words "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them", and goes on to say "Where over one million pilgrims, 10,000 priests, 800 bishops and our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI are gathered together in His name, we can definitely touch, hear, and see Christ's presence!" An amazing PDF 188 countries are represented in the congregation on the Marienfeld, and the cableway camera provides breathtaking aerial images for 250 million TV viewers throughout the world as it zooms and pans over the dense crowd whose fringes are lost somewhere in the mist. The clouds are hanging extremely low, and it looks like it's just a matter of minutes before it'll start to rain.

Celebrating mass with Pope Benedict XVIIn his homily, Benedict XVI focuses on the central importance of the eucharist for the catholic church, and encourages the pilgrims to celebrate the holy mass on Sunday, since "this free time is empty if God is not present". In a similar vein, he laments that "in vast areas of the world today there is a strange forgetfulness of God." At the same time, he observes, "there is a kind of new explosion of religion" that "often becomes almost a consumer product. But religion sought on a 'do-it-yourself' basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves." Instead, Benedict XVI calls upon Christians to let their unity with Christ shape their lives: "It must be seen in our capacity to forgive. It must be seen in our sensitivity to the needs of others. It must be seen in our willingness to share. [...] Living and acting thus, we will soon realize that it is much better to be useful and at the disposal of others than to be concerned only with the comforts that are offered to us."

11:30: The service continues, combining age-old Roman-Catholic rituals with modern songs from cultures all over the world: Zamponas and charangos earlier infused the Gloria with South American energy; now an Indian sitar is accompanying the Credo; African drums drive the rhythm of a powerful Sanctus; and an Australian didgeridoo lends its unmistakable sound to the Agnus Dei. Then, just after the prayer for peace, an announcer gets on the PA system with "some guidelines for the smooth and dignified progression of the communion". I expect him to tell people to stay on the grass and clear up the roads for the priests with the holy bread to come through, but instead he just reminds everybody that only catholics are entitled to receive the communion! I find that announcement quite unnecessary at this time, since it's a well-known (though controversial) rule - but I guess after today's homily, we had that one coming. It's one of the issues where official teaching and many laymen's opinions tend to diverge: Some consider the eucharist the defining aspect of catholic faith, some consider its strict interpretation dogmatic hairsplitting, and the result is tension within the catholic church, as well as between the catholic and protestant church, whose ecumenical cooperation otherwise works very well - Leipzig is a prime example of healthy ecumenism, and especially the last week's Days of Encounter would have been impossible without the commitment of the protestant parishes. Anyway - one by one, altar servers are meeting up with priests and filing out of our area to bring the communion to the people. But even with so many priests, I have no clue how they intend to serve a congregation of one million.

13:00: The mass concludes with the announcement of "the Church's worst-kept secret" that the next World Youth Day will take place in Sydney in 2008. The insignia that compose the XX World Youth Day's logo - the star of the Magi, a C for Christ, water, the towers of the cathedral of Cologne, and the cross - are handed to representatives of different nations as a sign to carry this event's message out to the world. At last, Pope Benedict XVI sends the pilgrims home with individual words of farewell in French, English, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Tagalog, Swahili and German.

At the end of the mass, a few dozen altar servers are still lingering around our area - however, it seems that we're not needed for the communion anymore, as the priests' ranks are also breaking up now. So, I just walk back the same way I've come. The alley along the backstage area is cordoned off even more tightly now by scores of security volunteers and police officers, and I realize that the Pope (and probably the VIP guests) will also return this way. For a moment, I consider waiting on the side to get a really close-up picture, but then figure that I'll likely pay for every minute I stay here with additional hours on the way home. Instead, I head back to meet up with the girls in D7 as quickly as possible.

images/IMG1668MB_Marienfeld_Gate2_thumb.jpg 18.0K13:30, Marienfeld, Gate 2: I reach our site just when the group is considering to leave since they figured I would probably be busy with the communion for another few hours. After stowing my robe and camping mat and cleaning up our site, we briefly consult the map to decide how to best get out of here - the train station at Horrem looks like a tempting option, since we can catch a direct train to Düsseldorf there and circumvent the whole Cologne area. However, to get there, we'd have to cross the entire Marienfeld, walking against crowds half of the time and then trailing crowds half of the time. Instead, we decide to leave through gate 2 that's right next to us, and then take a shuttle bus somewhere. As soon as we leave the greens, we find ourselves in a dense crowd of people streaming to gate 2, which turns out to be a tight bottleneck. I stow my camera again lest it get lost at the last minute.

images/IMG1667MB_Marienfeld_Gate2_thumb.jpg 15.8KAfter pushing through and regrouping outside gate 2, we take a shortcut to the B264 that we noticed when we came in yesterday - a small side road that's designated as a bike path on the map. Of course, other people can read the map too, so the bike path is extremely crowded. At the crossroads with the B264, things get so tight that the only way of not breaking up is to walk single file and grab a hold of the backpack of the person in front of you. The other groups are doing the same, and long snakes of pilgrims are worming their way through the chaos. Interestingly, when enough groups fall into such a formation, it not only helps their members to stay together, but also introduces an order into the crowd that allows everybody to move along more efficiently. Soon, we're on the "main footpath" B264 again, where we can breathe more freely and walk at our own pace.

About halfway to the shuttle stop, we take a break at the roadside again. Another group had shared their food packs with us earlier, so after all, we do have enough food for the whole day! Invigorated, we get on our way again - the long hike goes easier today, probably because the air is fresher (no rain all day though!). We don't want to imagine hiking in this crowd on a hot summer's day - the medical emergency services seem to be busy enough already without scores of people fainting from heat.

16:20, Shuttle Stop A: We're relieved when the shuttle stop appears around a corner - but then, it turns into the single most chaotic experience of this weekend: Police officers have cordoned off one half of the road where buses pull up every minute, and the other half is packed tighter with people than anything we've experienced before. That in itself is not a recipe for chaos, but having five different bus lines pull up at random positions along a 100 m long crowd certainly is, especially when nobody knows which bus lines there actually are. So, we spend the first ten minutes observing the displays of the arriving buses to get an idea of which lines there are, and consult our PDF public transport map to find out that the lines to Pulheim and Longericher Straße promise the best connections to Düsseldorf.

Figuring that out was the easy part, but getting our group of 16 together on the right bus is a different story. A couple of buses for "our" lines pull up, fill within seconds and depart again, while we're unable to move an inch closer. After 15 more minutes, we realize we can't wait forever for the right bus to stop in front of our nose by sheer luck. Just then, the next bus to Pulheim approaches. We plow through the crowd in our proven queue formation - neither easy nor painless with everybody carrying their big backpacks, but we just want to get out of here! - the bus opens its doors a few meters down the road, people start gushing in, the first members of our group reach the bus, we climb on, our queue breaks up somewhere behind, the driver closes the doors, everybody starts to yell, the driver actually opens the doors again, the rest of our group frantically scrambles through the crowd and onto the bus, the doors close for good, the bus pulls away -- is everybody aboard? A quick count of the yellow WYD scarfs the girls are wearing: Yes, miraculously, we made it. This is madness!

17:25, Pulheim Station: The adrenaline rush has worn off during the half-hour shuttle bus ride - exhausted, we climb off at Pulheim Station. Surprisingly, there are very few pilgrims here - the two platforms are almost deserted. We let the comparative quietness and solitude soothe our nerves for a few minutes, not yet wanting to think about the next ride on a regional train that comes straight from Cologne and is probably packed to the roof with pilgrims.

17:38, RE 11324 Pulheim-Grevenbroich: We can't believe it - the train is not only right on time, but also virtually empty! For the first time since yesterday morning, we sit down on comfortably cushioned seats again. A lady sitting close by tells us that Cologne Central Station was no more busy than on a regular weekday! We can't believe it - did nobody go through Horrem Station? Or did they indeed funnel people through the public transport system that efficiently? They were planning to have trains running every five minutes, after all. Either way, we're glad to be moving away from Cologne... ...and stressful though it was, we're already talking about going to Sydney three years from now! Shortly before Grevenbroich, I bid farewell to the girls from the Sauerland, who will continue to Mönchengladbach in the hope of finding a good connection to Olsberg and Winterberg from there. "Safe trip home!" - "Stay in touch!" - "See you in Sydney!" -- Then I'm off.

On the regional train from Horrem18:03, RB 10968 Grevenbroich-Düsseldorf: Staying on their train was the best thing the Sauerland group could do! My connecting regional train to Düsseldorf comes straight from Horrem, and it's packed beyond anything I've ever seen. I run along the whole length of the train without a chance of getting on, and finally climb into the foremost carriage. I get in as far as the second step, and need to lean forward to let the door close behind my backpack. I can't see even one inch of the floor, because it's covered with backpacks and people sitting and standing everywhere. Some are totally exhausted, others (Italians, naturally) totally exhilarated. I ask a girl from Germany when they left the Marienfeld. "One o'clock", she says, "but then we got stuck in front of Horrem Station for three hours." I don't even want to imagine spending three hours wedged in a crowd with my backpack on! Our way obviously wasn't any faster, but probably still more comfortable despite the scene at the bus stop. And it's no wonder that lady on the first train hadn't seen many people in Cologne - they were still stuck at Horrem! I guess most people who didn't leave the Marienfeld right after the mass will have to camp out again somewhere tonight.

ICE ticket Düsseldorf-LeipzigOn the express train to Hannover18:52, ICE 645 Düsseldorf-Hannover: I fill in my Lidl ticket for the trip from Düsseldorf to Leipzig just before boarding the express train, when I'm certain that I will actually get out of here, now - I wouldn't have dared to fix my return trip any time sooner! When the InterCity Express pulls into the station, Andrea Bocelli's "Time To Say Goodbye" is played on the PA system, and the announcer says farewell to the pilgrims: "Thank you for visiting - you have been great guests!" I guess considering the PDF sheer scale of this event (in German), everything worked out remarkably well. Despite the long queues, the area's public transport system also did a good job of handling the hordes of pilgrims - after all, you can't really expect the service to run smoothly under something like a hundredfold peak load. My only complaint would be the signage along the footpaths to the Marienfeld, which was either non-existent or so small that we missed them - if I hadn't taken printouts of the various maps from the WYD website with me, we'd have been quite lost a couple of times. Anyway - I get on the train, stow away the WYD pass that I've been wearing for most of the past 48 hours, and relax in my seat. On the way to Hannover, I meet a couple from Oldenburg: Ajapura and Bastian couldn't attend the weekend celebrations and are eager to hear everything about them now. Father George, an Indian priest heading a Swedish group, soon joins us and shares his pictures from the Marienfeld. His group still has a longer trip ahead of them: To Berlin tonight, and then continuing on a charter train (their group is 400 people strong!) to Stockholm, where they'll arrive on Tuesday.

21:50, Hannover Central Station: Of course, it would have been too good to be true if all my connections worked out on a day like this. The train to Leipzig is gone already when I arrive, which means I'll have to wait for an hour and won't be home until way past one o'clock at night. Oh well - on the bright side, the break gives me a chance to grab some dinner - can't live off bread and water all weekend! A whopper menu from Burger King sounds just right at this moment.

22:36, IC 2245 Hannover-Leipzig: Call me paranoid, but after today's experiences with crowded trains, I actually invested three Euros to reserve a seat on this train - I don't want to spend the last three hours standing! Of course, that was before I learned that this train begins in Hannover, and I do feel slightly stupid when I get on and realize that there are maybe five people on the whole carriage with me... D'oh! The train takes its time - waiting for connecting passengers here, slowing for a construction zone there... I don't really care anymore, but hope that I won't doze off and sleep through right to Dresden. I wonder if the girls arrived at home already? They might if they caught a good connection (I later heard that they had a pretty smooth ride and returned home around 10 p.m. already, while many busloads of pilgrims were still making their way out of Cologne the next morning).

My robe, back in LeipzigMonday, 01:50, Leipzig: I'm back home at last! Mustering my last energy, I unpack the backpack to let my damp sleeping bag dry and put the altar server's robe neatly on a hanger. Surveying my stuff, I'm surprised how clean everything is - I had feared coming back with my gear covered in mud, but incredibly, it never rained the whole weekend - thank God! My thanks actually go out to many people without whom I couldn't have taken this trip, or not have enjoyed it nearly as much: My mom for the ticket, Bettina for the trekking backpack, Mrs. Gesterkamp for the altar server's robe, the people of St. Matthias for their hospitality, and Anne, Sandra, Nathalie, Linda, Steffi, Isabell, Lena, Sonja & Sonja, Lea, Dina, Julia, Jutta, Andrea and Renate for their company!

02:30: When I'm finally in bed and let the weekend's events pass, I can't believe I've just been gone since Friday afternoon - these days were so packed with impressions that it seemed like a much longer trip. There were fun, stunning, solemn, exciting, crazy and exhausting moments, and their images and sounds will certainly remain vivid in my mind until I refresh them at the next World Youth Day, 2008 in Sydney!


© 2005 Matthias Book