Pope Arrives in Cologne to Address World Youth Day

The gathering in Cologne, Germany, is drawing young Catholics from around the world. i i

The gathering in Cologne, Germany, is drawing young Catholics from around the world. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Sylvia Poggioli, NPR
The gathering in Cologne, Germany, is drawing young Catholics from around the world.

The gathering in Cologne, Germany, is drawing young Catholics from around the world.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR

Pope Benedict XVI returns to his homeland to take part in World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. This is the new pope's first international event since his election four months ago. Observers will watch closely to see whether he has the same impact on the world's young Catholics as his predecessor.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

Pope Benedict XVI today returns to his homeland, Germany, to take part in World Youth Day in Cologne. This is the new pope's first international event since his election four months ago. Observers are going to watch closely to see whether Pope Benedict has the same impact on the world's young Catholics as did his predecessor John Paul II. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Cologne.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

Before leaving for Germany, Pope Benedict gave his first interview as pope. He told Vatican radio he hoped young people would see Christianity not as a stale reheated meal but as the spring of all youth and of all life.

Pope BENEDICT XVI: (Through Translator) Yes, I'd like to show them how beautiful it is to be Christian. I want to make clear that it's not a burden to be carried by great love and realization, that it's like having wings.

POGGIOLI: Benedict has repeatedly lashed out against what he describes as a godless Europe, a continent whose churches are increasingly empty and which faces a serious crisis in vocation. The pope voiced hope the presence of hundreds of thousands of young Catholics in Cologne will help Europe rediscover its Christian roots and defeat what he has called the dictatorship of relativism.

Pope BENEDICT XVI: (Through Translator) We are hoping for this because such an encounter of people from all continents should also give the old continent, the host, a new impulse and help us so that we don't only see the sick, the tired and the missed opportunities in the European history. Because after all, we are in a state of self-pity and self-accusation.

POGGIOLI: So far, there's little reflection of that bleak picture in Cologne.

(Soundbite of clapping)

POGGIOLI: City streets are throbbing with the sounds of excited throngs of teen-agers cheering, dancing and waving their national flags.

(Soundbite of teens cheering in foreign language)

POGGIOLI: This exuberant crowd came from Ecuador. Fifteen-year-old Pabla Golyea(ph) speaks for the group.

PABLA GOLYEA (Teen from Ecuador): This is our forum, to pray to God. Yes, and we feel so happy to ...(unintelligible) in Germany.

POGGIOLI: There are also lots of kids from the United States.

(Soundbite of kids cheering)

Unidentified Child: Yeah!

Group: (In unison): Oh, oh, yeah!

POGGIOLI: Nineteen-year-old Jennifer Clark from Los Angeles dismisses charges that the Catholic Church is out of tune with young people.

Ms. JENNIFER CLARK (Los Angeles): The fact that all the youth come together to pray and to go to mass shows that we're in support of what the church does and that we truly do love the Catholic Church and believe in what the Catholic Church teaches.

POGGIOLI: But not everyone here strictly follows official church doctrine. Aleeza Milafedro(ph) from Turin, Italy, laughs when she's asked if she observes Catholic sexual ethics.

ALEEZA MILAFEDRO (Turin, Italy): No, ...(unintelligible), no.

POGGIOLI: Her friend Eban Elinah(ph) elaborates.

EBAN ELINAH: (Through Translator) There are problems with the church's positions, for example, on contraception and abortion. This is not a problem just for young people but for all Catholics. I think some of the pope's positions could be modified but not just to please young people.

POGGIOLI: The young pilgrims in Cologne are on a spiritual quest and show little interest in deep analysis and debate. The festive cheer alternates with prayer at the many outdoor masses.

(Soundbite of choir)

POGGIOLI: Pope Benedict will be meeting others apart from Catholic youths while he's here. He will meet Muslim leaders and will visit a synagogue, a highly significant gesture by a German pope in the country that spawned the Holocaust. It also comes at a time of strained relations between the Vatican and Israel, which accused the pope of overlooking anti-Israeli terrorism. But the focus will be on youth. Four hundred thousand young pilgrims have arrived in Cologne so far. The key event will be the big outdoor mass celebrated by the pope on Sunday and German organizers are still hoping one million young people will attend. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Cologne.

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