Arriving Pope calls WYD a sign of church vitality

CLICK HERELanding in Cologne for the World Youth Day celebrations, a smiling Pope Benedict XVI said the massive gathering is a sign of the church's vitality in a country "indelibly" marked by Christian traditions.

Catholic News Service reports that the Holy Father looked "energised and happy" on the first stop of his first papal trip yesterday as he was welcomed by a crowd of government dignitaries, church leaders and young people at Cologne's airport.

When he stepped off his chartered plane, the wind sent his white zucchetto flying, and the crowd let out a whoop. The pope came down the stairs and walked briskly along a red carpet, shaking the hands of his hosts.

From the far end of the tarmac, he was cheered by more than 100 young people who waved flags and scarves. They were chosen to represent an estimated 500,000 youth day participants from more than 190 countries.

"That so many young people have come to meet the successor of Peter is a sign of the church's vitality," the 78-year-old pontiff said in his welcoming speech.

"I am happy to be with them, to confirm their faith and to enliven their hope. At the same time, I am sure that I will also receive something from them, especially from their enthusiasm, their sensitivity and their readiness to face the challenges of the future," he said.

The pope made two main points in his first talk. First, he said the World Youth Day theme, "We Have Come to Worship Him," underlined the need to understand "life as a pilgrimage, guided by a 'star,' in search of the Lord."

Like the Wise Men, whose relics are revered in the Cologne cathedral, he said, "all believers -- and young people in particular -- have been called to set out on the journey of life in search of truth, justice and love."

"The ultimate goal of the journey can only be found through an encounter with Christ, an encounter which cannot take place without faith," he said.

The pope's arrival ceremony was quieter and more low-key than those of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. Unlike the late pope, Pope Benedict did not kiss the ground when he landed, and he rode into the city from the airport in a covered car.

President Horst Koehler welcomed the pope as a native son, saying that even as a Protestant he was moved that "a German, one of us, has become pope."

In downtown Cologne, where giant portraits of Popes Benedict and John Paul decorated several buildings, many World Youth Day participants followed the arrival ceremony on giant TV screens.

Later in the day, the pope was to address youths at a welcoming ceremony on the banks of the Rhine River in the Cologne city centre and pay a visit to the city cathedral. He plans to lunch with a youth delegation today, preside over a prayer vigil tomorrow and celebrate the World Youth Day closing Mass on Sunday.

The pope is also scheduled to meet with government and political leaders, seminarians, ecumenical representatives and Muslim leaders, and visit the Cologne synagogue at the invitation of the Jewish community.

In his airport speech, the pope described the interreligious and ecumenical encounters as "important steps along the journey of dialogue and cooperation" among believers.

Pope Benedict inherited the World Youth Day trip, and he has called it providential that his first foreign visit would involve such a high-profile international event in his native land.

Before he left Rome, he said he hoped to communicate to young people the joy of being a Christian and let them know that the faith is more than a set of rules. He said a new wave of belief among young people would be a good antidote to the "fatigue" and loss of faith across Europe in recent years.

Pope lands in Germany, calls World Youth Day sign of church vitality (Catholic News Service 18/8/05)

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World Youth Day - Australia
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Latest News From Cologne (Vatican Radio English Features 18/8/05, audio - requires Real Player)
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19 Aug 2005