World Youth Day Coverage
Posted Friday, August 19, 2005 at 12:19 p.m. CDT

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Coverage of World Youth Day exclusively by NCR

Correspondent's Notebook #2:
Benedict in the synagogue; Assessing Benedict top date; The Magi pilgrims; On the papal plane; Some snags in logistics

NCR Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr. is in Cologne, Germany. will post daily reports from World Youth Day through Aug. 21. Bookmark this page or check back with to read more coverage of this international Catholic event.

John L. Allen Jr.


Cologne, Germany

Friday morning I attended a catechetical session led by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles in a parish in Cologne. Also in attendance was Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, an old friend of Mahony.

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I took the opportunity to ask Martin what he made of Benedict XVI's performance so far.

"He's shown in so many ways that he has no intention of cloning John Paul II," Martin said. "He will do things his own way."

To date, there has been perhaps no clearer illustration of Martin's point than Benedict's Friday visit to the synagogue in Cologne, which was a warm and, by most accounts, successful affair, but carried out in a very non-John Paul II style.

Most noticeably, although Benedict had strong words about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, he never "went personal" in the characteristic fashion of John Paul II. Even though Benedict witnessed the horrors of which he spoke first hand, in his comments he never drew upon his own life experience - watching Nazi propaganda escalate in the late 1930s and 1940s, being involuntarily enrolled in the Hitler Youth, serving briefly in the German army, then coming to terms with the reality of the death camps.

Instead, speaking in calm tones, he offered a careful and rather impersonal reflection on the Jewish/Catholic relationship, both its present and its future.

Karol Wojytla, on the other hand, knew instinctively that his own life story offered riveting drama, and he routinely invoked it in the context of Jewish/Catholic relations. He grew up in Wadowice, a small Polish town just a few kilometers from Auschwitz. Many of his friends as a young men were Jews, and he always carried a reverence for Jewish tradition.

Read more NCR coverage of World Youth Day
  • Report #4: Do-it-yourself religion 'cannot ultimately help us,' pope tells youth. Posted Aug. 21, 12:23 p.m.
  • Correspondent's Notebook #4: WYD 'rehabilitates' Joseph Ratzinger; Pope and teacher; Meeting with seminarians; Diversity among youth; WYD liturgical styles; Some ripples of dissent. Posted Aug. 21, 12:23 p.m.
  • Report #3: Benedict uses meeting with Muslims to condemn terrorism. Posted Aug. 20, 12:54 p.m. Updated at 4:56 p.m.
  • Correspondent's Notebook #3: Cardinal Pell sums up youth day message; Aussies prepare for 2008; Sant'Egidio community in Cologne; Contemplating WYD without a pope; Synagogue visit reaction. Posted Aug. 20, 12:54 p.m.
  • Report #2: Benedict acknowledges progress, challenges in Catholic-Jewish relations; Also meets with Catholic seminarians, German Protestants. Posted Aug. 19, 12:19 p.m.
  • Correspondent's Notebook #2: The pope at the synagogue; Assessing Benedict so far; The Magi pilgrims; On the papal plane; Some snags in logistics. Posted Aug. 19, 12:19 p.m.
  • Report #1: Picking up where John Paul II left off. Posted Aug. 18, 2:35 p.m.
  • Correspondent's Notebook #1: Who attends World Youth Day?; Benedict arrives; Condolences to Taizé; WYD trivia and Americans in Cologne; Visa problems; Security issues; Comic relief. Posted Aug. 18, 2:35 p.m.
  • In addition, Benedict offered no memorable made-for-TV gestures, such as leaving behind a note in the Western Wall apologizing for centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, as John Paul II did during his trip to Israel in 2000. There were no spontaneous embraces, no off-script sound-bites.

    In that sense, Benedict came off as a deeply gracious, thoughtful figure who is much less theatrical, less dazzling than his predecessor.

    One thing that did strike participants afterward, however, was the pope's personal kindness. He listened attentively, greeted his hosts warmly, and took time to exchange words with everyone who was presented to him. In that sense, even without the "charisma factor," Benedict seemed to impress his audience favorably.

    The lack of biographical reference in Benedict's remarks stood in contrast with his impromptu remarks on May 18, after the showing of a biographical film about John Paul II in the Vatican. The movie included scenes of Nazi repression of Jews and Poles. At the end, he stood and applauded.

    He called the work a "moving film with very strong emotional references to the repression of the Polish people and the genocide of the Jews."

    "One is talking about atrocious crimes that demonstrate all the evil contained in the Nazi ideology," Benedict said.

    He said he saw a providential design in the fact that a Polish pope was succeeded by a German one.

    "Both popes in their youth -- both on different sides and in different situations -- were forced to experience the barbarity of the Second World War," Benedict told the audience.

    * * *

    Another striking absence in Benedict's remarks on Friday was any reference to the State of Israel. There was some expectation that Benedict might touch the subject, since the Vatican and Israel recently engaged in a nasty diplomatic exchange over the pope's omission of Israel in a list of countries that have recently experienced terrorism in a late July address.

    Vatican sources told NCR, however, that Benedict regards the Jewish-Catholic relationship as a separate matter from the diplomatic ties between the Holy See, as a sovereign state, and Israel. Among other things, he doesn't want the problems of the second relationship to unnecessarily burden the first; in recent years, those problems include the failure to reach agreement on accords governing the financial and legal status of church-run institutions in Israel. Currently, many church-run schools, hospitals, monasteries and pilgrimage centers are facing back-due tax bills that could cripple their operations if differences are not resolved.

    * * *

    One touching scene unfolded at the end of Benedict's hour-long visit. After the pope had finished saying goodbye to Rabbi Netanel Teitelbaum and his other hosts, he got into his car for the brief trip back to the archbishop's residence for lunch with a group of young people.

    Before the care pulled away, a man from the congregation at the synagogue, wearing the yarmulke and tallit (a cloth, generally white, that goes over the shoulders), approached the car, planted his hands on the pope's window, and gave it a kiss.

    It seemed a final gesture of friendship in an event intended to put a punctuation mark on the progress in Jewish-Catholic relations in the 40 years since Nostra Aetate, the document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which state unequivocally that " the church deplores feelings of hatred, persecutions and demonstrations of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at whatever time and by whomsoever."

    * * *

    In addition to Benedict XVI, several senior Catholic figures took part in the synagogue visit. Cardinal Walter Kasper, who heads the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, was there, as was Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, Cardinal Walter Lehmann of Mainz (president of the German bishops' conference), and Archbishops Leonardo Sandri (the sostituto, or number two official in the Secretariat of State) and Piero Marini (the pope's top liturgist).

    French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger's presence was perhaps especially significant. Lustiger was born of a Polish Jewish family that migrated to France early in the 20th century. His parents were deported during Nazi occupation, and his mother died in Auschwitz. The young Lustiger lived with a Christian family in Orléans, converted to Catholicism and received baptism on Aug. 25, 1940. At that point, he changed his first name from Aaron to Jean-Marie.

    Given that history, Lustiger has always been committed to Jewish-Catholic dialogue, a relationship that in some ways he symbolizes in his own life story.

    The high-powered Catholic delegation was one sign of the importance that Pope Benedict XVI attached to this visit, a prospect he first revealed to the Ambassador of Israel to the Holy See, Oded Ben-Hur, in an audience with diplomats after his election as pope.

    * * *

    More from my conversation with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a veteran of curial service. Martin worked in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and as the pope's representative to the United Nations in Geneva. A charming, witty, and media-savvy figure, some have touted Martin as a possible candidate to be the next Secretariat of State, essentially the "prime minister" in the Vatican system.

    Martin believes that from the very beginning of his papacy, and despite his enormous admiration and affection for John Paul II, Benedict XVI has shown a determination to be his own man.

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    "When he came out on the balcony for that first blessing, the temptation was to say Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! ('let Christ be praised'), as was the style of John Paul," Martin said. "But he didn't take that over. It's a sign of the way he's going to move his pontificate forward."

    Martin sees a certain shift in the role of the pope under Benedict.

    "His communication will be primarily theological and spiritual," Martin said. "That will be his legacy. John Paul II brought enormous prestige to the papacy, but Benedict XVI will refocus to some extent where its essential characteristics are."

    Martin also sees Benedict having a somewhat more withdrawn, thoughtful style.

    "John Paul II came into a curia that didn't want him, though in the end it served him faithfully," Martin said. "Benedict XVI doesn't need the curia for what he wants to say. He has his own theological vision."

    "What he needs," Martin said, "is quiet and calm so that he can work out his ideas."

    * * *

    I also had the chance to speak with Mahony Friday morning, who has brought more than 1,000 young people with him from the Los Angeles archdiocese.

    Mahony has attended previous World Youth Days, so I asked him if anything in particular struck him as unique about Cologne. He noted the fact that events are spread out in several different localities, including Bonn, Dusseldorf and Leverkusen.

    "In a way it's good," Mahony said. "The venues tend to be smaller, and we're in actual neighborhoods, so you get more of a sense of the country." At the same time, Mahony noted that the logistical challenges of getting people from point to point had so far proven rather taxing.

    I asked Mahony what he made of the pope's performance to date.

    "It's a quantum leap for him," Mahony said. "His background, his experience, is as a quiet thinker, and now he's facing the expectations of a rock star."

    Mahony said that on the Rhine Thursday, Pope Benedict "tried very hard, and I think he succeeded. He was warm, he smiled, he waved, and the young people seemed delighted. He really wants to see the young people, and to be seen."

    "I think he's going to be fine," Mahony said.

    I reminded Mahony that a few years ago, while John Paul II was still alive, I wrote an analysis piece on papal trips, in which I quoted him as saying the next pope would certainly travel, but perhaps not in the same way. He might schedule fewer big events in stadiums, Mahony suggested, and spend more time in listening sessions with the local church.

    Granted, I asked, World Youth Day is set up for big events -- but does he believe that on future trips, Benedict will adopt his model?

    "I would surely hope so," he said. "Rather than these big mega-Masses outdoors, he could have sessions with the church of that area, hearing the concerns of laity, of the pastors, of the deacons, and so on. I think he would pick up much more about the local church that way."

    I noted that after the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI, Mahony had praised his capacity to listen and predicted that he would be a collegial pope. Does he see evidence of that to date?

    "I've only met with him once since his election," Mahony said. "It was July 8, when I was in Rome for a meeting." That meeting was of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Questions of the Apostolic See, composed of 15 cardinals from local churches around the world appointed by the pope to help oversee Vatican finances.

    "The striking thing was, he came to the meeting," Mahony said. "John Paul II never came to our meetings, though he would sometimes have us in for lunch afterwards. But Benedict came and spent a half-hour with us, asking what we were discussing, getting the highlights, and asking about our questions. Some cardinals were actually a little hesitant, because they weren't accustomed to this."

    What Benedict will eventually do with what he heard remains to be seen, Mahony said, but his presence and curiosity suggests a genuine desire for collaboration.

    Mahony said he also hopes Pope Benedict will move quickly to address the Vatican's communications operation, which is currently divided across a number of departments (The Press Office of the Holy See, Vatican Radio, L'Osservatore Romano, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and the Secretariat of State), often without a great deal of coordination. Mahony also said he hopes the Vatican will enhance in its use of the Internet.

    * * *

    World Youth Day's motto is "We Have Come to Worship Him," a reference to the Three Kings of the infancy narratives in the New Testament. Just as the Three Wise Men -- according to legend, Casper, Melchior, and Balthasar -- took a journey in search of the new-born King of the Jews, so the participants at World Youth Day say they have traveled to Cologne with same objective - to find Christ, and to worship him.

    The Magi have a special resonance in Cologne, whose legendary gothic-style cathedral houses the relics of the Magi. They were originally housed in Milan, but left there in the fourth century and eventually arrived in Cologne in 1164.

    As a result of all this, the Magi have become a central point of reference over these days.

    As noted below, Benedict invoked the Magi at the very outset of the trip (technically, before his plane had even departed Rome's Ciampino airport), referring to the Magi as pilgrims who had set out "searching the just way to live."

    His fullest reference to date came in an address to seminarians Friday afternoon. The pope said:

    "Why did the Magi set off from afar to go to Bethlehem? The answer has to do with the mystery of the 'star' which they saw 'in the East,' and which they recognized as the star of the 'King of the Jews', that is to say, the sign of the birth of the Messiah. So their journey was inspired by a powerful hope, strengthened and guided by the star, which led them towards the King of the Jews, towards the kingship of God himself.

    "The Magi set out because of a deep desire which prompted them to leave everything and begin a journey. It was as though they had always been waiting for that star. It was as if the journey had always been a part of their destiny, and was finally about to begin.

    "Dear friends, this is the mystery of God's call, the mystery of vocation. It is part of the life of every Christian, but it is particularly evident in those whom Christ asks to leave everything in order to follow him more closely. The seminarian experiences the beauty of that call in a moment of grace which could be defined as 'falling in love.' His soul is filled with amazement, which makes him ask in prayer: 'Lord, why me?' But love knows no 'why'; it is a free gift to which one responds with the gift of self."

    As an aside, when the World Youth Day theme was set for Cologne three years ago, there was some debate among advisors to the Pontifical Council for the Laity and people who had worked on former youth days about whether or not the phrase "We Have Come to Worship Him" was advisable. There was already criticism that World Youth Day projects something of a "cult of personality" around the pope, and some wondered if the proposed phrase might invite confusion as to who the "him" refers to -- Christ, or the pope. Especially in Germany, where ecumenical divisions run deep, and where Protestants have long accused Catholics of an exaggerated devotion to the pope, some felt the phrase was a bomb waiting to explode.

    So far, in fact, this does not seem to have been much of a problem, although there has been some inadvertent slippage. The young woman who welcomed Benedict XVI in English during his cruise on the Rhine, for example, said the following when addressing the pope: "Hundreds of thousands of young people who followed the invitation of Jesus Christ have come, like the Magi, to worship you." As a grammatical matter, the referent of that "you" could only be the pope, though most people I spoke with didn't seem confused.

    In general, while there have been critical voices in the German press, no one seems to have picked a fight over the theme -- perhaps, in part, because with Benedict XVI it's clear the church has a pope uncomfortable with the pop star dimensions of the job, and determined to reshift the focus onto the message and the office rather than the man.

    As a further aside, the meeting with seminarians took place Friday afternoon in Cologne's Church of St. Pantaleon. This church, which at one stage served a Benedictine monastic community, happens to be the only parish in Cologne entrusted to Opus Dei. (The parish does not stress the connection, though there is a link to the German Web site of Opus Dei on the parish's own site.)

    Generally speaking, the clergy of Opus Dei (there are 1,850 priests in a worldwide membership of 85,491) do not staff parishes, since they are ordained primarily to serve the spiritual needs of Opus Dei members. Nevertheless, in a few cases they do so -- St. Thomas More parish in London, for example, or St. Eugenio in Rome, or St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago.

    Trip planners told NCR that there is nothing to read into the choice of St. Pantaleon, except that it was a convenient centrally located site for the meeting. The pope did not make any mention of Opus Dei or its founder, St. Josemaría Escrivá, in his remarks.

    * * *

    A note about the "papal plane."

    Many Americans often assume, by way of analogy to Air Force One, that the pope has his own plane that he uses on all his travels, perhaps with office space, living quarters, meeting rooms and so on. In fact, the pope does not own an airplane. When he flies out of Italy, he does so on a plane provided by Alitalia, the national carrier of Italy. When he comes home, he normally takes the national carrier of the country from which he is returning. In this case, that means Lufthansa. In either case, these are normal commercial planes that were probably in service the day before and will be again the day after. His lone "perk," so to speak, is that he sits up front in a first class seat. Occasionally, especially for longer flights, the plane will be modified slightly; when John Paul II flew to Toronto in 2002, for example, some of the seating in the first class cabin was removed so that a full bed could be installed. Normally, however, he rides more or less like any other passenger.

    Generally, the pope flies out of Rome's Fiumicino airport and returns to Ciampino, in order to pay equal homage to both. In this case, however, the pope both left and will return at Ciampino, since it's substantially closer to his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

    One reason that journalists pay steep airfare to fly on the papal plane is the hope that the pope might come back to the press compartment, taking a couple of questions and perhaps making some news.

    On the flight to Bonn/Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI walked back to the press compartment roughly five minutes prior to departure on April 18. Speaking in Italian, he wished the journalists buon lavoro, or good luck with their work. He then made the following comments:

    "We are making today the pilgrimage of the Magi, who were searching for the just way to live. Like them, we arrive today at the goal. We'll see one another again in the course of these days."

    The pope was then asked, "How do you feel making your first trip to your own country?"

    His reply:

    "I'm moved, to be with my people, but above all to be with youth from all over the world. This is an extraordinary event, with young people from all parts of the earth, from all cultures, who find themselves together in the search for the truth. They are united in the love of Jesus Christ, and thereby are a force for peace in the world, today and in the future. Today, the star of Christ again guides and reunites the lost, creating communion, friendship, and joy, and thus opening also the hope of peace. It is a great thing to serve this end, and I hope to do my part."

    Journalists then shouted questions about inter-religious dialogue, current events in the Holy Land, and other topics, but Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls escorted Benedict back into the area reserved for Vatican officials.

    * * *

    The vaunted German organizational machine has, to date, been only spottily in evidence during World Youth Day in Cologne.

    To be fair, any gathering of a million people for a week creates massive organizational problems that test any system, however well-oiled. In addition, because events in Germany are spread out over several localities (Bonn, Dusseldorf, Leverkusen and elsewhere in addition to Cologne), the logistical challenges are all the more formidable.

    Moreover, precisely because the Germans are supposed to be legendarily efficient, they suffer from a climate of high expectations. To put it simply, people expect everything to work. That undoubtedly sets the bar a bit too high.

    Still, the snafus have so far ranged from irritating to rather hard to believe.

    For example, after German President Horst Köhler welcomed Benedict XVI at the Bonn-Cologne airport on Thursday, a press convoy was supposed to ferry reporters immediately to the press boat that was to accompany the pope up and down the Rhine River. In fact, the convoy got lost several times along the way, at one stage ending up in an industrial zone on a one-way street, and having to circle around to head back. In the end, drivers had to stop and ask directions on the street in order to arrive at the proper dock.

    Cardinal Roger Mahony told a similar story, that his World Youth Day-assigned driver got lost taking him Friday morning to his catechetical session at St. Nikolaus parish in a residential part of Cologne.

    The problem, apparently, was that many of the volunteers -- who, by universal testimony, are warm and want to be helpful -- are not from Cologne, and thus don't know their way around. The same thing is true of some of the law enforcement officials on duty. Of course, one would think that they would have driven the routes in advance to make sure they knew where they were going, but given the massive crowds and snarled traffic in Cologne these days, perhaps it was impossible.

    (CNS/Bob Roller)
    World Youth Day pilgrims, from left, Margurite Redd, 22, Zachary Rosser, 22, and Jason Fabus, 23, of the Diocese of Pittsburgh look over a map in Cologne, Germany, Aug. 18.
    Pilgrims are experiencing similar frustrations.

    A group from Bakersfield, Calif., is staying in the same hotel as the Vatican press corps. Several of the young participants told me Friday morning that although they had purchased a full meal package, with tickets for lunch and dinner each day, so far they had been unable to use them because of the massive lines. In the end, they decided that Burger King was a better solution.

    The same group said they had been discouraged from attending the pope's cruise down the Rhine because the crowds would be too massive. Instead they watched a jumbo screen projection in a Cologne stadium, but because of the enclosed space they had no air on a very warm and humid afternoon, and some of the young people became ill. They ended up standing in a stadium tunnel, where there was a bit of breeze, and catching a sliver of the big screen.

    A group from Dublin said they weren't even sure where their luggage would be the next day, since the lodging they had been assigned couldn't keep it during the day and they had nowhere else to put it. World Youth Day organizers had suggested they leave it on their bus, but they weren't using the same bus throughout the day.

    Nor were the difficulties confined to reporters and pilgrims.

    Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles, for example, told me that the bishops who took one of the five boats accompanying the pope on the river were more or less abandoned when they got off the boat, and did not arrive at their hotel until several hours later, at which point the meals they were supposed to have were long gone.

    Despite the hiccups, many of the participants seemed philosophical.

    "It's a pilgrimage," Zavala said. "Difficulties are part of the experience."

    August 19, 2005, National Catholic Reporter

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