August 26, 2005

Archdiocese’s pilgrims sacrifice and rejoice

By Brandon A. Evans

COLOGNE, Germany—More than 170 youth and adults from the archdiocese joined a million other people who made a pilgrimage to Cologne for World Youth Day 2005.

Like any pilgrimage, there were sacrifices and difficulties, but the pilgrims marched through them and made their way to an open-air “cathedral for a day” in Marienfeld, just outside of Cologne, for a vigil and Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

After spending a few days first in Rome and Assisi, the archdiocesan group made their way by overnight train to Frankfort, Germany on Aug. 15.

It was when they boarded the Rhine River Steamer in Mainz for a four-hour cruise that the pilgrims learned of two sacrifices that would start their week in Germany.

The first was that the Communion hosts for Mass had been left on a bus so no one would receive Communion; the second was that, due to the death of his friend and archdiocesan priest, Father Clarence Waldon, on Aug. 14, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein would be returning home for the rest of the pilgrimage.

Though disappointed, the youth understood, and as they joined in the Mass for the Solemnity of the Assumption on board the boat, they made a spiritual communion with Jesus Christ.

For at least one pilgrim, this Mass was the highlight of the trip.

Though the pilgrims had just celebrated Mass in some of the most beautiful and holy churches in the world, it was this Mass that moved Greg Lorenz, a member of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis and a senior who is home-schooled, the most.

It reminded him that this pilgrimage was more than a trip to see mammoth churches and ancient statues, but was a spiritual journey. It also reminded him that even a humble, small Mass on a boat was no less grand than one celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica.

After Mass, some people made their way up to the top deck of the ship, despite a light rain, to see the German towns they passed by—each decorated wonderfully with ornate architecture.

There were castles set atop the misty hills and row after row of grapes being grown to make German wine. Brilliant flowers lined the villages and even the train tunnels had entryways shaped in the form of small castles.

Upon disembarking, the pilgrims went to their hotels just outside of Cologne—three groups scattered in the cities of Neuss and Duesseldorf—to begin a week of World Youth Day activities.

The first major event was an opening Mass. Three were held around Cologne, and most of the archdiocesan group tried to attend the Mass in a stadium at Duesseldorf while about 30 pilgrims got special tickets to attend a Mass in Cologne with Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

But there again, sacrifice came into play. An overcrowded mass transit system and too much distance cost almost every pilgrim the chance to attend Mass, so for a second day they made a spiritual communion instead of being able to receive the Eucharist.

Jacob Niemeier, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville and a sophomore at Avon High School, said that there was no use getting frustrated by all the difficulties.

During the stay in Rome, Jacob’s friend lost his wallet and passport while spending time on the town. Jacob said that while his friend looked—and the situation seemed hopeless—he prayed and miraculously they found the wallet in a different place: outside, on the ground and with the passport intact.

It showed Jacob the power of prayer, and made it more real to him. The whole trip, he said, strengthened his faith and gave him the chance to make friends.

Kristin McNeely, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington and a freshman at Indiana University, said that the struggles along the trip didn’t really bother her. Even during the struggle to get to Mass, she was part of a group that started singing to cheer people on board a crowded city tram.

For her, this trip was originally more of a chance to vacation in Europe.

“It was not really a religious thing for me at first, to be completely honest,” McNeely said. “But it has definitely turned into a religious experience.

“At home, everything is stories and here it’s all around you,” she said. “It’s because all the stories happened here.”

She said it was powerful to see so many different people from all over the world, and it was especially touching to see other people from around the United States and to have that connection with them.

McNeely was part of a group that, on Aug. 18, waited for nearly seven hours along the streets of Cologne to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI as he arrived in the city for his first visit outside of Italy.

When asked why she didn’t join other pilgrims who watched the event on television from their hotel or other places, her answer was simple.

“I’ve seen it on TV before. I’ve never been there,” she said. She had the time and was in the place, and said that the wait was worth it.

Those pilgrims that made the wait were treated to seeing the pope drive by only a few feet from where they stood—some even said that he looked them right in the eyes.

The youth also had a chance to participate in two morning catechetical sessions, where they sang songs, celebrated Mass and listened to two bishops give presentations about the faith. (See related story on page 13).

Another major event was a pilgrimage by foot along the Rhine River and a tour of Cologne’s cathedral, where the relics of the three Magi are kept.

Many youth made sacrifices to get to World Youth Day. Parishes held fundraisers, and parents and family often chipped in to help the youth make the trip.

Zack Love and Doug Marcotte, both college students and members of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, sent letters to all the people they knew asking for financial help.

While they hoped to get a thousand dollars, in the end, the entire cost of their pilgrimage was covered—half by donations and half by their parish.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Love said.

“We’re very, very thankful,” Marcotte said. “It really has been a blessing to go.”

All week long, a group of people who made considerable sacrifices—and many of whom paid full price to go on the trip—were the chaperones for groups of between four and seven young people.

Being a chaperone meant having total responsibility for the safety of the youth, and knowing exactly where they were at all times.

Joseph Brake, youth minister and director of religious education at St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington, served as a chaperone for the group from his parish.

“What I’ve been trying to do … is allow them to decide what sort of things they want to do,” Brake said. This meant, as he learned, that the things he wanted to do took a back seat—but it gave him the chance to experience the trip through the youth.

He said that he also tried to continually steer them in a spiritual direction.

The biggest task for the chaperones involved keeping the groups together during all the travels—especially when the youth set off for Marienfeld, where the pope held a vigil on the night of Aug. 20 and a Mass the next morning. The youth camped in the field overnight.

The massive field, broken into sections, was about three miles from where the buses dropped off everyone. When they arrived around noon, the archdiocese’s pilgrims hurriedly staked out spaces for tarps and sleeping bags.

As the hours went by, thousands upon thousands of people continuously poured through the gates, and the archdiocese’s designated area soon became saturated with people from every country, filling in every tiny bit of grass.

For Sarah Warner, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, the experience of being in the field surrounded by a million young Catholics was a highlight of her trip.

She said that she would recommend a pilgrimage to World Youth Day—which she attended to grow in her faith—to every young Catholic.

After hours of being in the field and eating, napping, playing cards and writing in journals, everyone got on their feet to view Pope Benedict’s arrival on big television screens.

That night, with each pilgrim holding a candle and huddled together in groups with their World Youth Day liturgy books, the young people participated in a prayer vigil that include song, Scripture and eucharistic adoration.

The next morning, after making it through a cold, wet night in the field—and enduring small groups of pilgrims who sang and talked all night—the pope arrived again to celebrate the closing Mass.

The event is the high point of World Youth Day, especially after a strenuous 24 hours in a field. It is the direction toward which all the struggles on the pilgrimage are directed.

But there was one more sacrifice to be made, and for some youth it was undoubtedly the hardest. Because of the time of their flights home, the archdiocesan pilgrims had to leave Mass—which started late—during the homily to start the three-mile walk to the train station.

While the groups—especially the two groups that were flying to Paris that afternoon for an overnight layover—made their flights, there was a lingering sense that the pilgrimage wasn’t closed properly.

Knowing the needs of the pilgrims, Father Jonathan Meyer, associate director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult ministry, celebrated two Masses for the two Paris groups inside a small room at the hotel near the airport.

During the Mass, the spiritual theme of World Youth Day came back to bear: Father Meyer reminded the youth that even though this Mass was far less grand on the outside than the closing Mass with Pope Benedict, it was nonetheless just as beautiful, just as powerful and as much of a blessing.

In a certain sense, that Mass was the perfect end to an imperfect pilgrimage—a pilgrimage that on the outside was filled with struggles, but on the inside was filled with grace. †


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