Got an early start today, up at 7am, to visit the various catechetical sites around the WYD area. There are many, many such sites around Cologne and Dusseldorf. About twenty are aimed at an English-speaking audience, about ten of those run by the American episcopal conference. The basic format of the catechetical sites is to have a program which runs from mid-morning until early afternoon, alternating between music, prayer, and speakers (generally catechetical in nature), with a whole lot of emceeing to keep the kids animated. Each site has a 'featured' catechist, usually a well-known bishop or Cardinal.
Wednesday we started off driving down to Dusseldorf, a nice thirty-minute drive north from Cologne, to visit St. Francis Xavier church, where Cardinal George of Chicago was catechist. We just missed his speech, but he was seated in the presider's chair during a break, with a long line of kids waiting to kneel, kiss his ring, and exchange a few words. Real pop star culture. Most of these kids are from third-world countries; I can't imagine they've heard of George, but the Cardinal's velvet must be the draw. Some American Catholic musicians were playing from the stage (sanctuary?).
In the foyer I happened across an old friend from a few years back, Fr. Mark Schwab, a Canadian priest from the Vancouver diocese who spent over a decade in youth ministry, and is now chancellor of that diocese. Great to see him, and exchange a few stories. The great part about English-speaking catechetical sites is that you often run into people you know, which wouldn't happen otherwise. While in Dusseldorf we made contact with another friend staying in a local hotel, Joseph Campo, who runs Youth 2000 and Grassroots Film project, closely associated with the CFR brothers in the Bronx. He and six of his boys are doing some filming on a joint project, and we arranged to spend most of the day together on Thursday.
From Dusseldorf we headed south of the city to a major sports arena ('Bayarena'), another English-speaking catechetical site. This arena hosts 17,000, and its featured speaker is Cardinal McCarrick today. Again, we missed the talk, but got to chat with a lot of the young people. The place is swarming with nuns in full habit, who are an incredible presence here in Cologne. Every group seems to have a few nuns with it, and they are working to staff a lot of the sites, often behind the scenes. None of them are promoting their own order, either, just helping and assisting. We met our friend Sr. Trinite at the arena, with her mother superior and a gaggle of her sisters. I still can't emphasize enough how joyful this crowd is, and how fired up. Someone had the idea to promote WYD whistles, and every group seems to have a few. Walking through the streets makes you have to hold your ears to block out the shrieking call and answer. We saw a few 'I Love My German Shepherd' T-shirts; no Ratzinger Fan Club's yet.
We heard some of the WYD staff discussing some of the events the day the pilgrims arrived. Apparently on Monday Planned Parenthood did an all-out promotion, and plastered all the subways and railways in Cologne with pro-condom posters. But from the hour the pilgrims started arriving, the posters started coming down. Most pilgrims ripped selectively, crossways and upwards, to tear out the shape of a cross across the posters. Others took the whole things down (apparently unaware or unfazed by the fact that this is a criminal offense here). By the end of the first day, nothing was left on the subways but ripped-out crosses and bare walls. That's the energy here. It's not that the kids are necessarily fiercely orthodox. It's just that this is their show, it's their time, it's their Church, and they don't want anyone raining on their parade, or cramming ideology down their throats.
We made it back to the hotel for dinner. Schnurr and Cody wandered by again, still without their flocks. At least they seem to be having a good time. Cardinal Mahoney dashed past our table in the middle of dinner, apparently late for something. (speaking of hulking beasts - Mahoney is fitted out like a praying mantis.) Sitting next to us was a young priest from Bavaria, a fellow diocesan of Joseph Ratzinger's, as it turns out. There are a lot of Bavarians here, although talking to this priest about the diocese was a bit gloomy. They have 500 priests in the diocese, which is a heck of a lot (but Chicago's not too far off), but, as he whispered under his breath, only forty seminarians. Yowya. The Legionaries, as I learned today, have 500 priests worldwide - 2,500 seminarians. I mean, apples and oranges, I know, but it really puts things in perspective.
Speaking of which, after lunch we hit the vocation.com coffeehouse again, which is still rocking out, wheeling out the confessions and masses. Father Bannon, who serves as general of the American Legionaries, is out working the crowds outside; apparently he knows several European languages. The coffee house is really the only place to go. As everyone hear is complaining, there is no real central location in this WYD. Every event and location is spread between three cities. In Toronto, on the contrary, everything was in one city, with one central 'celebration pavilion' which was the hub of every event. Here there is nothing like this. The Cathedral is the only thing close, but unlike Toronto, there's really nothing to do in or around the Cathedral. No events are planned there, just mobs of kids. So the coffeehouse is really turning into a big hub.
I split from Fr. EJB in the late afternoon and, on the advice of some of my readers, hunted around for the tombs of Bl. Duns Scotus and St. Albert the Great. The WYD program had advertised a celebration of Scotus at a church in SW Cologne earlier in the day, so I figured that must be the church he's buried in. (The celebration was put on by the Scottish bishops, who are apparently making a big deal of the fact that Duns is a Scot. Who knew?) I drove down there and found the church. Everyone there was in mass, so I looked around in the foyer and found no clues which would indicate that it was Scotus' tomb, or in fact nothing connecting it with the Franciscans at all. I dragged a volunteer out of mass: she was German but spoke decent English. She had no idea what I was talking about, and took me to the local WYD office, staffed by six teenage Norwegians who speak zippo English.
Volunteer: Vat iz it you vant?
Me: I'm looking for Duns Scotus.
Volunteer and Norwegians: Dunz Skotuz? Who ist he?
Me: Well, he's dead. I'm looking for his grave.
Volunteer and Norwegians: (look very confused) Ver is he from?
Me: Well, Scotland, actually. But he is buried here.
Volunteer: Ah, he came with de Skottish pilgrims. Did he leave zomething here?
Me: No, no. He's dead. He is a saint. Well, actually, a blessed.
Norwegians: Hieleger? Ah!
Much confusion followed. Apparently the Norwegians call him 'John Scotus', and not Duns, hence part of the confusion. They still seemed confused about why I was looking for his grave. They pulled up a computer and googled it, and found the name of the local church where he is.
Me: Okay, how about St. Albert the Great?
Volunteers and Norwegians: Albert who?
Me: He is a saint. Albert. Umm.....from Italy?
Me: Albertus Magnus?
Volunteers and Norwegians: ALBERTUS MAGNUS!! AH!!!
The universal language. I love it. They googled his church, too. Both are near the cathedral, so I'll hit them tomorrow. Makes me wonder who else is here. Someone should produce a 'POD Pligrims Guide' to various cities. It would have quite an audience. These tombs weren't on ANY of the tourist material (well, I suppose it's not that surprising, but not even on the WYD materials?).
I met with Fr. EJB again at another huge church near the Cathedral, which is being run by the Sisters of the Family of Mary (? best I made out in rough translation of their French), who have turned it into a perpetual adoration site. Youth 2000 is helping out as well, and there are constant confessions in the side chapels. Fr. EJB and I headed down and grabbed dinner. This late in the week my stomach needs a break from sausage and beer, so we opted for Asian instead. Drank way too much wine, blogged (this should explain the state of my blogging, done late at night when everyone in Cologne is drunk) and went to sleep.