Cologne Pilgrims Line Up for Mercy

This is staff writer Tim Drake's first report from Cologne. Find his Reporter's Notebook on page 10. Read his World Youth Day blog at

COLOGNE, Germany — One of the signature sights at past World Youth Day gatherings has been the long lines of young people waiting for the sacrament of reconciliation. Cologne is no exception.

In the confession lines you can find many youths, like Annie Marx of Canton, Mich., who are attending the sacrament for the first time in years.

“I get scared and nervous about it,” said Marx, a sophomore at Eastern Michigan University. She is attending World Youth Day with five others from her parish, St. John Neumann. “It's been a couple of years since I've been to confession,” she added.

As she saw others entering the confessionals in the line in front of her, she looked forward to the opportunity to cleanse her soul.

“If I see a confessional, I'll go,” Marx said. “I look forward to seeing someone that I'll probably never see again.”

Pope John Paul II made the promotion of confession a signature message in his final years, repeating again and again that confession of serious sins is required before a Catholic can receive Communion. He saw the return of young people to confession as one of the chief fruits of World Youth Day events.

“The problems that others cause me are nothing like the problems that I cause others through my sin,” said Daniel Mull, a little farther back in line. The Virginia Tech graduate from Jacksonville, Fla., said, “Many Catholics have forgotten about the sacrament of reconciliation. I'm eager and excited to see so many people ready to be reconciled with Jesus in Cologne.”

There are plenty of opportunities for pilgrims to partake of the sacrament. In addition to daily offerings of reconciliation in most of the parishes where the young are staying, World Youth Day is also holding confessions in multiple languages at the “Reconciliation Center” — a dedicated space in the Cologne convention center where many of the week's activities are taking place.

There, in one of the center's halls is the World Youth Day pilgrimage cross, Bibles and a depiction of the Way of the Cross and various artwork. In addition, the center — open from 8 in the morning to 10 at night — contains a room where pilgrims may give thanks afterwards before Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Various religious orders also are taking advantage of the vast numbers of pilgrims seeking the sacrament. The Franciscan Friars of Renewal and the Legionaries of Christ are offering the sacrament at separate venues during the week.

“In Toronto, 15,000 pilgrims per day participated in the Youth 2000 and Franciscan Friars of Renewal Eucharistic adoration,” said Franciscan Brother Crispin. “We had more than 50 priests hearing confessions. In Cologne, we expect to offer confession nearly 12 hours per day.”

Again in conjunction with Youth 2000, nearly 45 Franciscan priests and brothers will be leading the Liturgy of the Hours before the Blessed Sacrament at St. Maria Himmelfahrt — Our Lady of the Assumption Church — just blocks away from Cologne's massive Cathedral. Father Heiner Koch, general secretary for World Youth Day, serves as pastor at the church.

Elsewhere, the Legionaries of Christ will be offering the sacrament in a hotel where they are hosting a Vocation Café. Nine confessionals, complete with kneelers, screens and boxes of tissues, are set up in the hotel's lower level.

“The hope would be that we will have more than nine confessional lines going simultaneously,” said Danny Gonzales, national director for “On Friday we expect 300 young people from the archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia.”


The offering of confession has grown over the past World Youth Days. It was first offered on a large scale during the Jubilee Year 2000 in Rome. There, more than 2,000 priests were stationed in Rome's Circus Maximus. In Toronto in 2002, many confessions took place in “Duc in Altum” park alongside Lake Ontario.

“It keeps getting bigger and better,” said Mark Thomason of Denver. Thomason has attended the World Youth Days in Denver, Manila, Paris, Rome, Toronto, and now Cologne. “It grows in response to what the young people want.”

“Confession is so beautiful,” said 19-year-old Jenna Wilson of Omaha, Neb., as she waited for her turn. “It's humbling to admit that you're not perfect, and that you have to go to God and lay your mistakes down before him.”

The Cologne pilgrim handbook encourages pilgrims to avail themselves of the abundant opportunities for the sacrament at the daily catechesis sessions being offered by bishops from around the world, at the Reconciliation Center, or at Marienfeld — a piece of farmland where coal was once mined. Named after a sculpture of Our Lady of Sorrows found in the Assumption Church, it is the site for the Aug. 20 vigil and Aug. 21's final Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

As an added bonus, those who attend the sacrament are also eligible for a special plenary indulgence offered by Pope Benedict XVI just for World Youth Day. According to an Aug. 2 decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the indulgence is available to the faithful who attend the sacred functions of World Youth Day and “attentively and religiously” participate in its conclusion on Aug. 21.

In addition, the penitent must also receive sacramental confession, receive holy Communion, pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, and be free from attachment to any sin.

Carrie Cusik, a World Youth Day pilgrim and associate editor with Emmaus Road Publishing, agreed.

“World Youth Day is first and foremost a pilgrimage,” Cusik said. “When you get to the place you've wanted to get to, you want to leave a bit of yourself. You want to leave your weaknesses and burdens behind.”

Tim Drake filed this story from Cologne.

A Rough Start

International travel is always fraught with challenges. “Getting to your destination” isn't supposed to be among them.

Northwest Airlines, perhaps because of the impending mechanics’ strike, was flying late out of Minneapolis. The afternoon flight was four hours late, as was the 6 p.m. flight. I made it to Cologne much later than I expected.

En route, my luggage was lost, making it impossible for me to charge the batteries on my equipment. Prayers for a speedy arrival of my baggage would be most appreciated.

Argghhh … along with the frustration of my continued lack of luggage (razor, batteries, charger, adapter) is the frustration of having to use a German keyboard in the press center.

Now, this might seem like a small pebble to carry around in one's shoe, but let me demonstrate the problem.

On the German keyboard the keys for y and z are reversed. Once you've taught a person to type, it's very difficult to re-teach him.

So, if I had my druthers, my text would read like this:

It's been raining on and off for the past couple of dazs here in Cologne. With mz lost baggage is mz lost raincoat.

As one of the zouth daz pilgrims told me, “It's all about surrender.”

Jesus Rocks

I talked with some members of a group from St. John Neumann Parish in suburban Detroit. They sported light blue “Jesus Rocks” T-shirts, WWJD wristbands, and two of them proudly wore blue baseball caps that read “The Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club.”

There was a lot of life around the Cathedral of Cologne on Saturday (Aug. 13) evening. Young people were gathered on the stairs, sitting in groups singing and clapping.

In front of the Cathedral are two large posters one bearing the image of Pope John Paul II, a composite image made up from thousands of photos sent in by people around the world.

The other poster bears the image of Pope Benedict XVI.

This is my second visit to Cologne. The first was 10 years ago as a new Catholic. The Cathedral never fails to impress. I attended Mass there this morning in the Marian Chapel.

It is a fitting place for the youth of the world as they “Come to Worship Him.”

Melbourne 2008?

One blessing of the late flight is that it allowed me some time to talk with Melbourne, Australia, Archbishop Denis Hart at the airport in Amsterdam as we waited for our flight to Cologne. He had just attended a meeting of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy in England, and was going to Cologne to spend the week with approximately 300 pilgrims from his archdiocese.

He wouldn't confirm the rumors that World Youth Day 2008 will be held in Sydney, but seemed excited about the possibility. “Let's wait and see,” he said.

St. Edith Stein,

pray for us!

Among the patron saints of World Youth Day, is the convert and martyr St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross — Edith Stein. Of course, Cologne was home to her Carmel convent. There is a moving statue dedicated to her located just a few blocks away from the Cathedral. Although a description of the statue won't do it justice, here it is:

The statue depicts Edith at three points in her life. At one point, she is still Jewish, holding the Star of David. Later in life, she is depicted as a nun, carrying the cross of Christ.

Before her lies a path that has been trodden by many feet.

A cross is visible in the path before her. Tucked into the cross, but not visible in the photos, is a crown of thorns. Also at the end of the cross is a pile of shoes.

That pile of shoes reminds me of another pile of shoes.

Some years ago I toured the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

There were two points in the museum when I couldn't stop the tears from falling. One was an exhibit that showed hundreds of photos of families and individuals from a particular town. Later, you learn that every one of them perished at the hands of the Nazis.

The other point was when you come to an enormous pile of shoes left behind by those who were murdered. A poem along with the shoes says that because they were made of leather and not skin, they were saved.

It was most moving, and seeing the Edith Stein statue reminded me of that.

These are excerpts from Tim Drake's World Youth Day blog,

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