|World Youth Day Cologne 2005|
A Late Night with a Difference in the city of Cologne
Put forty young people together on a foreign trip and you expect late nights and early mornings. But for forty young people from around Mayo and Galway late nights in August had a different significance this year. The forty young adults from the diocese of Tuam made the journey to Cologne in Germany to attend the World Youth Day 2005 celebrations in the company of Benedict XVI. It is estimated that in excess of 1.2 million people from over 162 countries throughout the world attended this weeklong festival which culminated in the Saturday night vigil on August 20th and a papal mass celebrated at Marienfeld outside Cologne early on Sunday morning.
The crowds of young people who thronged to the German city made the narrow streets around the city's famous Gothic Cathedral look like Jones' Road after the final whistle on All-Ireland Sunday. Flags were to be seen from every continent and many of the young groups sang their native songs as they made their way along the streets to attend the various events which were organised as part of the festival. Not to be outdone by their European counterparts the young people from the west gave enthusiastic renditions of the Fields of Athenry and the Saw Doctors' "Green and Red of Mayo." The Mayo colours and the tricolour were flown proudly by the young people from Castlebar, Kiltimagh, Westport, Claremorris and Tuam who were really amazed by the event.
For Mandi Munyikwa from the Curragh, Castlebar, the highlight of the event was the opening ceremonies in the Rhine Energie Stadium which is home to FC Cologne. Mandi was born in Zimbabwe but has been living in Ireland for many years. Mandi met some people not only from Zimbabwe but from countries all over the world at the opening ceremonies. "The colour, the music and the atmosphere were really impressive and you felt that you were part of an international event." These opening ceremonies were led by Cardinal Meisner and were reminiscent in their colour and atmosphere of the opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics in Croke Park in 2002. Liam Connell from Castlebar was a little hesitant at first about going to Germany. "The event coincided with the Leaving Cert results coming out and I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to be in Germany when the rest of my friends were getting their results at home." However, Liam's feelings about the event changed somewhat when his name was drawn out of a hat to be one of the young people on the European boat which accompanied the Papal flotilla of five boats which sailed up the river Rhine on the Thursday evening. "Getting so close to the Pope and seeing the thousands of people gathered along the banks of the river Rhine as the Papal flotilla passed by was the highlight of the week for me" said Liam who got his results by phone. Another member of the group whose name was drawn to travel on the Papal flotilla was Knockmore native, Kieran Gardiner. Kieran was not a man to be phased by the experience and was happy chatting and sharing jokes with the likes of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O Connor of Westminster and Cardinal Martini of Milan who were fellow passengers with Kieran on the European Boat.
The young people from Mayo and Galway were guests of the Parish of St. Theodore in the Hovi district of Cologne. The group had the use a local school gym and slept on the floor alongside sixty other young people who were visiting for World Youth Day. This years' gathering was the twentieth in the series which was begun back in 1985 by the late John Paul II as part of a movement to foster faith in young adults. The theme of this years' gathering was "We have come to worship him." These words were spoken by the three wise men as they visited the child Jesus in Bethlehem. The relics of the three wise men are said to be contained in Cologne's Cathedral.
The organisation of the World Youth Day celebration was a great logistical nightmare for the city authorities and the efficiency for which the German's are renowned was in evidence throughout most of the event. However, the city's transport system ground to a halt on a number of occasions during the festival as the volume of passengers saturated the city's transport system. The sheer scale of the event and the numbers attending was what impressed Shane Mullins from Snugboro. Shane is a fifth year student at St. Geralds College, Castlebar and felt that the Saturday night gathering at Marienfeld with Benedict XVI was the highlight of the week. Over one million people arrived at the venue on Saturday afternoon and stayed in the open air all through the night. A heavy dew and damp conditions did not diminish the spirits of the young people who continued to sing well into the night. The gathering culminated in the Papal mass which was televised live on Sunday morning. In the lead up to the vigil there was a great variety of musical acts which included Moya Brennan from Ireland. The Saturday night vigil also marked the highlight of the week for David Canavan from Breaffy. "There was a great international atmosphere there and an air of expectation" according to David who is a second year student in the University of Limerick. Young people from every continent got together to sing, dance, pray and celebrate a common aspect of each of their lives, namely their faith.
The group arrived back home looking forward to sleeping in a comfortable bed again and grateful for the experience of World Youth Day 2005.
Thanks to Fr. Pat Farragher for the article.