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Boston pilgrims attend World Youth Day celebrations in Cologne

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COLOGNE — Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Boston spent their first days in Germany fighting off jet lag, while sharing stories with people from all over the world, singing familiar songs and looking forward to upcoming World Youth Day events.

The 158 pilgrims from the archdiocesan group arrived in Germany on Aug.15 with a few hours of sleep and a full day of activities ahead of them. Due to the number of participants, hotel accommodations could not be made for the whole group in Cologne, so half of the group is staying in nearby Düsseldorf. Another 300 pilgrims from different Boston parishes that have made their own travel arrangements are also attending World Youth Day.

Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley will join the Boston pilgrims during the week and will celebrate Mass with them in Cologne Aug. 20 in the morning.

The first day included free time to explore Cologne with their parish groups. Some who traveled from Boston speak German, Spanish or French and are able to communicate with fellow travelers who speak those languages. But most of the time communicating in English worked just fine.

“What state are you from?” shouted a group of pilgrims, recognizing fellow Americans.

“Massachusetts,” several from the Boston group answered.

“We’re from Indiana,” came the reply.

These conversations occurred over and over again as the travelers tried to orient themselves in a foreign country and, for many, a foreign experience.

Late on the first day, the entire Boston group met for a Mass at St. Andreas Church in Cologne.

“We are graced to be in this city at this time,” said Father Tom Dunne, director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, at the Mass for American pilgrims who arrived on Aug. 15, the day before World Youth Day officially began.

Father Dunne asked the youth to remember that God has blessed them with this opportunity.

After the Mass some people continued to explore Cologne while others headed back to the hotels. Most of the pilgrims staying in Düsseldorf fell asleep at some point on the way back to the hotel, which takes anywhere from one to three hours depending on the time  of day and number of other passengers. They woke due to starts, stops, and the occasional ringing cell phone, experiencing the same type of interrupted sleep they had on the plane ride over.

“I can’t wait to go back and sleep,” said Channing Shippen, a high school student from Our Lady of Hope Parish in Ipswich. “It’s like the never-ending day,” she added.

By the next morning, most of the jet lag had worn off. Some participants from the archdiocese brought guitars to serenade other pilgrims and residents of Cologne.

Everyone joined in to sing “Dirty Water” and a revised version of “Sweet Caroline” that is now “St. Benedict.” Those traveling from other destinations joined in if they knew the words, and others sang their own songs in their native language.

Parish groups split up again on the morning of the second day. Some toured area churches, went to museums or bought souvenirs. Most made their way to the opening Mass, held simultaneously in two separate locations, one in Cologne and the other in Düsseldorf.

Those who traveled to Cologne faced the dilemma of walking for an hour each way or trying to crowd on already clogged public transportation. Then, after reaching the Mass, which was held in a stadium, some found that no tickets were left and were invited to watch the Mass on a huge screen at a field nearby.

Maria Escallon, a youth from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Wellesley, said she expected many people but did not fully understand how large the crowds would be.

Escallon said she hopes she will gain a stronger connection with God through her World Youth Day experience. Although this is her first time, her brother attended WYD in both Rome and Toronto. “He came back more connected with his faith,” Escallon said.

Charlene Gay, also from St. John’s, attended WYD in Denver 12 years ago and has come back this year as an adult leader with her husband, Bob Collins, director of youth ministry at St. John’s.

“It reconfirms the faith that’s out there in the world, especially coming from Boston,” she added.

Too many people in the archdiocese have fallen away from the Church because they are hurt, she said. They have become distrustful and have forgotten the comfort a faith community can provide in life, she said.

Gay said she is especially excited for the march at the end of the week to Marienfeld, the section of farmland where pilgrims will hold an evening vigil and celebrate morning Mass with Pope Benedict XVI. All different cultures come together to celebrate, forming an amazing crowd that will stay up late into the night, dancing and singing until 3 a.m., she said.

Julie Morrison, attending her first WYD with others from St. John’s, said she is looking forward to this “culmination” where so many young people will come together for the same reason and celebrate Mass with the pope.

Morrison, who will be entering her senior year of high school in the fall, said she is looking forward to telling people what she did this summer.

“Some people ask, ‘What did you do this summer?’” she said, adding that she will be able to proudly respond, “Oh, I went to Germany, and I saw the pope.”

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