Cologne, Day 1
We actually arrived in Cologne late Sunday night, picked up a car and went straight to the hotel. The place we're staying is right on the Rhine, although I can only see the Rhine from my room if I press my face way, way up against the glass of the window and look sideways. The weather has been surprisingly, and unseasonably, as I hear, cool and even chilly. But it is a nice surprise. Fr. EJB and I stopped by a pub on the corner. New discovery: German pubs (which as a rule, I learn, are breweries) only carry one kind of beer, i.e. their own. So there is no selection of beers. They ask, 'a beer'?, and you respond, 'a beer.' Other discovery: Germans drink beers by the fifth of a liter, which is about a half the size of a typical American pint glass.
Monday morning my body finally caught up with me, and I slept in until the maid woke me up at 10am. After a quick cup of coffee at the cafe, Fr. EJB and I headed off to the Cologne WYD center to register as pilgrims. Although it's still Monday and the opening mass isn't until Tuesday, the lines are already very long, and we spend most of the morning standing in line. In the cool weather, though, it is not hard to do, and the pilgrims are delightful. We were standing between a group of German locals, and a lone seminarian from rural Poland. No matter how far away the place, Fr. EJB is alway within two or three degrees of separation (he had a mutual friend with the Polish seminarist, stationed together briefly in Krakow).
All the pilgrims are decked out in national colors, many simply wearing flags draped over or around their shoulders. The Irish are especially loud, and when two Irish groups meet, hold your ears. The Americans, unsurprisingly, are the most subdued in this environment. You don't see a lot of American flags. While standing in line, a group will suddenly break out in a chant or cheer, usually religious, and other groups will pick it up, which gets the whole line involved, even crossing national boundaries. There's a real authentic sense of pride in being religious, which is uncommon for Germans, I think. Many youth are wearing 'Jesus is #1' or 'I love Pope Benedict' T-shirts, which is great.
I had made the mistake of signing myself up as 'group leader' rather than Fr. EJB, which means nothing in reality, but I'm going to get egged for it the entire time we're here - anticlericalism, etc.
Once we made it back to the hotel, a number of the US bishops (many of whom are staying at the same hotel) were headed out for a midday mass, including Skylstad (Spokane), Sheridan (Colorado Springs), and Zurek (San Antonio auxiliary). We hiked down to a small church called St. Mary Major, which had a shocking display of photographs from during the war, when it had been bombed literally to the ground. The church is run by a community of nuns, the New Community of Jerusalem, apparently with its base in Paris. A wonderful community, very young and dynamic. We celebrated mass down in the crypt church, which was barren, carved out of rock and devoid of any ornamentation. Monastic in style, with a rock altar standing in the middle. Bishop Skylstad presided. For those who know him, he is rather shy and retiring, but he is also very open and transparent in all the best ways. He did take me a little off guard during the great Amen, when he led his unsuspecting congregation (all three of us) in a rousing chorus of the African-american spiritual version ('Aaaaaaaymen! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaymen! . . .). I prayed my office as they were un-vesting, and found the crypt wonderful for meditation.
Sheridan, by the way, is a hulking beast of a man, with shoulders as broad as a gorilla and a frat boy haircut, and a glance that lets you know he could kill you in less than three seconds. But quite cordial. I suppose. We were escorted by an Irish-born priest, Fr. Tom Healey, who serves the English-speaking community here in Germany, although he knew an excessive amount of detailed information about my hometown in rural North Carolina, which he insisted was a center of liturgical reform by the Oratorian community. I insisted, in turn, that the foothills of North Carolina had not seen a good liturgy since the 1940s. We each left convinced that the other was crazy.
We grabbed dinner at a local joint Monday night with Bishop Zurek and an American reporter. The reporter ended up buying dinner for us, because he was convinced we could get him into a papal event later in the week (we couldn't, and we told him that, but he was convinced otherwise, so we declined to prevent him from paying).
The hotels in Europe have the odd habit of supplying one computer for a hotel of over a thousand rooms. The one computer, in a renovated supply closet, is the 'business center'. But, surprisingly, there's been little competition for it. Perhaps because of the price.
# posted by Jamie : 3:19 PM