In the next few days, more than a hundred young Catholics and adult leaders from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are packing their suitcases and backpacks including special stars and heading to Europe for World Youth Day 2005.
The stars, made of plastic, cardboard, or metal, will be traded with other WYD participants when the youth exchange the sign of peace during Mass, according to the Rev. Doug Garand, who is leading a contingent from Sandusky.
The stars are symbols of the three biblical kings who found Jesus by following a star, Father Garand said, and the theme of World Youth Day 2005, to be held in Germany, is We ve Come To Worship Him, also a reference to the Magi from the Book of Matthew, Chapter 2, Verse 2.
The stars and the Magi are especially meaningful for this year s World Youth Day, which will include pilgrimages to the Cologne Cathedral where relics of the three Magi are displayed in a shrine behind the altar.
An estimated 400,000 Catholics between the ages of 16 and 30, including 23,000 from the United States, are expected to attend World Youth Day, which starts Tuesday and ends with an outdoor Mass Aug. 21.
Ten U.S. bishops, including Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, have been selected by the Vatican s Pontifical Council for the Laity to lead catechetical sessions during the event.
The global gathering was instituted by Pope John Paul II, who wanted to demonstrate his trust in young Catholics and at the same time encourage them to celebrate their faith. The first World Youth Day was held in Rome in 1985 and has been staged every few years since, including gatherings in Buenos Aires, Manila, Denver, and, most recently, Toronto in 2002.
Sadly for many Catholics, the 11th World Youth Day in Cologne will be the first one without John Paul II, who passed away April 2 at age 84. By chance, or perhaps divine providence, this year s gathering takes place in the home country of Pope John Paul II s close adviser and successor, Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
I m excited to see the new Pope, said Diane Verhoff, director of youth and young adult services for the Toledo diocese. Pope John Paul II has such a legacy and started such a great thing, but I m looking forward to seeing what this Pope does with World Youth Day.
She will be leading a group of about 40 people from Toledo that leaves for Germany tomorrow .
In the past, the World Youth Day events have been in one central location but this time, they ll be in Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Bonn, Ms. Verhoff said. Our group won t be together as much as we have been in the past, we ll be kind of spread out all over.
Father Garand and his group departed yesterday from St. Mary s Church in Sandusky, and a third contingent of 20 pilgrims is being led by the Rev. Michael Zacharias of St. Peter s Parish in Mansfield.
The Mansfield group, which leaves today, requested simple accommodations, which means they could be staying in the homes of German families, or they could be housed in a dormitory. But Father Zacharias said we ll more than likely be sleeping on a gym floor, which is fine because we consider this a pilgrimage.
He said his group is excited about seeing Pope Benedict.
We ve been planning this for over a year now, and when we started, the kids said they were excited to see John Paul. I said, Guys, remember, we re going to see the Pope. I didn t say it would be Pope John Paul II. But he ll be there in spirit and his prayers will be sustaining us.
Among the highlights on everyone s list will be the welcoming ceremony Thursday, with the Pontiff greeting the pilgrims.
As I recall from Toronto, that was kind of a prime moment for the kids that were there, Father Garand said. For a lot of the kids, tears welled up in their eyes when the Pope came in. I think they were surprised themselves by their reaction.
He expects a pilgrimage to the Cologne Cathedral to be another highlight. Father Garand has been to the cathedral several times and said it s his favorite of all the European cathedrals.
The bones of the Magi were transferred to the Cologne Cathedral from Milan, Italy, in 1164, after which the city became a major pilgrimage site. The church decided to build a cathedral in 1248 and the site was consecrated in 1322. Construction was halted in 1560, however, and not resumed until 1842. The cathedral was finally finished in 1880.
The shrine of the Magi is beautiful, Father Garand said. It s made Cologne a place of pilgrimage for centuries. And the amazing thing about the cathedral is that Cologne was leveled in World War II. If you ve seen pictures of the city after the war, everything is rubble around it except for the cathedral.
For the previous World Youth Day in 2002, nearly 700 Catholics from the Toledo and Detroit dioceses traveled by bus to Toronto and expenses were only a few hundred dollars per person. This year, the costs range from $1,500 to $2,500. Many churches staged car washes and held other fundraisers to help offset expenses for Cologne-bound youths.
Father Garand decided that while the pilgrims were in Europe, they might as well take in some other important religious sites, including the Vatican and the cathedrals of Paris. His group left yesterday for Rome, will travel by train to Germany, and then visit Paris after World Youth Day concludes, flying from France back to the United States.
Our pilgrimage will continue and the kids will really enjoy it, the priest said. With all the side trips, the costs were about $2,250 per person, he added.
Ms. Verhoff said the trek to Germany will be much more challenging than the last World Youth Day in Canada.
We re going to have to leave a lot more up to God for this one, she said. Just traveling with that many people, not being as knowledgeable about the country s railway and transportation systems, and not speaking the language, it will be much more challenging than Toronto.
Both the Toledo and Sandusky groups will be staying in hotels during World Youth Day and are planning to attend Bishop Blair s catechesis in Bonn on Thursday.
Contact David Yonke at:email@example.com or 419-724-6154.