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Cologne, Germany – I won’t forget that travel westward from Oriental Taiwan across the interminable European continent; hearing international speakers, experiencing inspired worship, engaging in practical workshop and most importantly seeing the new pontiff Pope Benedict XVI plus an exciting bonus – meeting my brother in Rome, Italy.
After passing a series of interviews: first with Youth Arise International (YAI) Manila, and second, with the German Embassy in Makati City and having been recommended by the Commission on Youth of the Diocese of Dumaguete, I joined 8 other official delegates from Oriental Negros to the 20th World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany.
The World Youth Day (WYD) is a week-long spiritual journey where young adults from all over the world unite to know and fall deeper in love with God. And yes, we embraced the opportunity to make our Filipino voices heard about the urgent need to help other young people find their useful place in society.
Before all the print and TV media were flooded with news reports on 600 or so Filipinos who were denied by the German Embassy, we were lucky and (I believe) blessed by Him that we already got at hand our Schengen Visa (a type of visa that would allow the bearer to enter all Schengen states or member-countries of the European Union-EU). So we left Manila on the 9th of August off to Germany via Taiwan aboard China Airlines.
Frankfurt, Germany – I made the Filipino man’s mistake of heading for an empty table in an airport restaurant. An airport staff was shocked: “Hold on a minute, sir! Why don’t you sit over here with these folk? I’m sure you’ll have plenty to talk about.” He was right of course. Germany is a place where human contact is easy. Indeed, German or Deutsche friendliness is proverbial; first names are used freely and “kumpel” are easily made, especially if you show yourself ready to join in, say what a wonderful country it is (not difficult!), and refrain from invidious comparisons with wherever you come from.
Nowadays half the enjoyment of Germany lies in the many different ways there are of getting around. It was a special thrill for me to get up into the bus heading for a 2-hour ride to Essen City (northwest of Frankfurt) for our registration at YAI Youth Festival, which stretched for 4 days. However, there was a sudden change of track since we were with the four Diocesan priests Fr. Ireneo “Dodong” Ruiz, Fr. Ramonito Maata, Fr. Lonilo Torres, and Fr. Roland Omatang we decided to cut short our stay in Essen to proceed to a parish church in Mülheim-Karlich in the Koblenz region for our “Days in the Diocese.” It is a standard pre-WYD activity to give pilgrims an opportunity to visit other dioceses in Germany and get a chance to meet the Deutsche people. Activities were sponsored by all 26 dioceses in Germany except Cologne which hosted the actual WYD activities.
In Koblenz, all the Oriental Negros delegates (except for Fr. Ram Maata and Ms. Maria Rubie Gabay Quilinguin who stayed in Frankfurt) were housed in three different homes of Filipinas married to German nationals. Loren joined another delegate Mrs. Elena Ricklefs, a teacher of Colegio de Santa Catalina de Alejandria as the first group. The two priests Fr. Torres and Fr. Omatang composed the second, while I joined Ms. Candice Zosa, an alumna of St. Paul University-Dumaguete, and Fr. Ruiz in another. In an unbelievable span of a week, there we engaged in various spiritually stimulating activities with French, Slovakians, a Vietnamese and of course, the local German youths.
Rather more relaxing was a pilgrimage trip through the same kind of landscape to Trier near the Luxembourg national border. Tall trees still cloak some of the less accessible areas of the southwest part, but most of German’s park-like woodland there did not suffer grievously at the hands of the timber-cutters.
In the stretch between Koblenz and Trier, the Moselle (wine towns and castles) winds and weaves its way, more than any other German river. In the many meanders one can clearly see the incredible force with which the Moselle once drove its way through the slate of the mountains on its way to Trier, where it flows into the Rhine. The craggy slopes and sheer cliffs are silent witnesses of this ancient battle of water to break through stone. Dams and locks have now tamed the river, and the Moselle has been navigable along most of its length for several decades. Sitting on the rear seat in the bus, I enjoyed the view of the medieval castles rearing up over the vineyards. Their towers and battlements reminded me of older, warlike times that I only see on movies and a couple of HBO or Cinemax experience; but today the old stone walls are just as romantic as the ruins perched on the ragged cliffs.
A number of the old castles, stately homes and fortified monasteries provided me an impression of the colourful history of the region. I bet those less interested in history can simply admire the imposing appearance of the massive old buildings, and the wonderful view over the beautiful Moselle Valley.
So much with the scenes of panoramic landscape drama, we’ve finally arrived at our pilgrimage destination in the city then became known as Treveris (now Trier), a former Roman Colony founded by Caesar Augustus. According to our guide, the glory of the Roman Colony, however, was short-lived as Germanic tribes gradually drove further and further southwards, and the Roman troops finally left in the Fourth Century.
Trier, Germany – Welcoming our arrival was the Porta Nigra (“Black Gate”), the largest surviving gate from the Roman Period. The massive, castle-like structure was originally made of blocks of light sandstones; its present dark color is a result of ageing over the centuries. After the end of Roman rule the Porta Nigra was converted into a twin church (1016). Much later, Napoleon Bonaparte had the relics and other religious paraphernalia removed.
[Porta Nigra “Black Gate” (Ooops wrong camera date setting) Photo taken 13Aug2005]
In Trier, according to an old tradition the Robe of Christ is kept and venerated in the Trier, Cathedral. But we haven’t got the chance to see it displayed. It is regarded as a symbol of the Son of God become man and of His redemptive work. We were told that Medieval tradition traces the presence of this relic of Our Lord in Trier back to St. Helena (died ca.330), mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine. It is said that she discovered Christ’s cross and tunic during her stay in Jerusalem and gave orders that the robe be brought to Trier. Only in 1196 that it was glass-walled into the new altar of the east choir and since that time, the Robe has been displayed at irregular intervals, always attracting pilgrims to the Trier Cathedral. The age of the Robe and the fact that it was walled up for so long will no longer allow a display or long exposure to light as in earlier pilgrims, years long before I even set foot on German soil.
Very likely the question of the authenticity of the Holy Robe can no longer be settled. In that place it is regarded as image and symbol of Jesus Christ. It is expressed in this way in the pilgrim’s prayer used since 1959. In this prayer we have a reminder of the sacred robe, which, according to the Gospel of St. John (19:25), was not divided by the soldiers at Christ’s crucifixion, but was kept while after they had cast lots over it.
Now at this time, we were very much excited to the second stretch of another week; approaching fast was yet another track to marvel on Monday, 15th of August. The scented water we know was named after this place where it was first manufactured.
Willkommen in Köln! (Welcome to Cologne)
The city seems to offer its citizens most of the ingredients of good life: attractive homes in every price category in suburbs that range from the merely pleasant to the opulent; and every kind of outdoor playground, from the sweeps of the Rhine River and superb architectures to lavish parklands that bring the bush almost into the city center.
True Cologne is a synthesis of city and river, and I made sure that I enjoyed it not only from Rhine River but also from the Cologne Cathedral itself. For much of the latter part of my first day in Koln, my eyes returned again and again to the unforgettable image of the cathedral’s clustering towers rising over the functionally elegant Rhine Bridge. The location of the present cathedral was almost certainly the focal point of Christians living here in Roman times.
In the Middle Ages Cologne was one of the largest and richest cities in Europe. The imposing panoramic view of the city and the Rhine is therefore to be found in many old pictures even on history books, circulating around Filipino readership. Here, on the city’s northern perimeter, churches of ever-larger sizes replaced the buildings that were here before them. They formed part of a circle of collegiate churches and monasteries that made up “Holy Cologne”. I have seen high-rise buildings but none had appeared as tall as the Cathedral.
With the many information booklets given to us, I have encountered the name Archbishop Rainald von Dassel, the person who brought the relics (including human bones) of the “Three Wise Men from the East” to the city of Cologne from Milan in 1164. From then on, each year thousands from all over Europe made a pilgrimage to the relics of the Three Wise Men. The Pilgrimage of the Magi played an important part in the spiritual and economic life of the city. The crowns of the three wise men are still part of the city’s coat of arms today. A foremost goldsmith of the period between 1190 and 1220, Nicholas of Verdun created a golden shrine for the much-revered relics.
As we fell in line joining thousands of other youths of different colors, to march in towards the inside of the cathedral you’ve probably imagined me already: with a typical Filipino height, now desperately grasping for more air, as towering species partially blocked my sight of the edifice. Some Caucasians sunburned (by the way August is the height of summer in Europe), blond and blue-eyed. Some dark. Some Latino-looking beauties from either South America, or Latin Europe. And a few brown-complexioned just like me. So my only guide ahead was that Philippine flag raised in a pole by Fr. Ruiz, which we both took turns as flag-bearers. Good thing one generous Filipina bought us a tall yet elegant pole, which more often than not, stood out from a few ordinary flagpoles raised by other fellow foreigners.
As we were nearing towards the cathedral’s main entrance (St. Peter’s Gate in the South Tower), I could already see the arches which were pointed in the middle with all parts of the cathedral uniformly vaulted, thus underscoring the heavenward dynamism of the whole edifice. The colossal architecture was to give the people an impression of heaven, and oh gee, was the sight Heaven!
With its great black-marble high altar inside, the inner choir is encompassed by an ambulatory adjoining a circle of chapels. The pillars are made up of a large number of round rods, the so-called shafts, and the vaults being supported by the ribs. The interior is decorated with capitals with gilded, naturalistic leaves. Stone ornaments are set in big windows, the tracery. The whole of the exterior is decorated in similar fashion with circles and circular elements. The southern side of the chancel, the one facing the city, is more richly decorated than the northern side.
The pier buttresses rise up from the circle of apsidal chapels as from a pedestal, dissolving in myriad arches and peaks as they soar upwards. A view of the windows of the upper choir with its fine tracery and richly decorated tympana opens up between them. The steep lead roof has a calming effect on the whole, while the golden cross on it shone forth from that point to my pupil gave a sense of the ethereal.
The high quality of all the work done, from the hundreds of sculptures hewn for the façade to the towers and the entrance portals to the large stained glass windows, makes the Cathedral indeed one of the foremost works of art of the Neo-Gothic Period.
Before we could all finally flock together in one big gathering for the entire WYD delegations from all over the world, our days were first filled with a roster of interesting catechetical activities: together with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and celebrations of the Holy Eucharist all over the 3 core cities of Cologne, Bonn, and Düsseldorf.
The sprawl of high-density suburbs surrounding major cities is conducive to the operation of an effective transportation system, and Germans have become very dependent on cars for work, shopping, and recreational trips. However, city public transportation services based on bus and rail are surprisingly efficient, albeit a heavy drain on the public purse. But lucky for us we did not have to spend a Euro or two, our WYD pilgrim IDs served as tickets and passes.
So within the intervals of the different events we were to commute from one venue to another via all-access-free rides on Inter-City Express (ICE) trains wherever in Germany for the entire duration of the WYD for as long as we wear our pilgrim IDs.
Food and Drinks
Dishes found nationwide and even in our host families tended to be of the heart variety and included cold meats, veal, pork chops, cheese, wurst (sausage), superlative breads, potato or bread dumplings (knodel) served with meat and sauce, fabulous Lake Constance trout, Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets), duck and game (especially in the south), Konigsberger klopse (pork and veal meatballs with capers), apfelstrudel (apple strudel), Rhine salmon and sauerkraut. These were food totally new to my palate; however, I started to feel a strange hunger, because every time we ate I was not quite satisfied. I felt something was lacking, until I realized I was in dire crave for rice. Well as expected, where can you see rice fields in a non-tropical setting? But that wasn’t at all a major problem since I then administered in my system a forcible no-carbo diet. So my lady companions, Candice, Loren and Ma’am Elena thought it was a blessing in the guise of finally getting rid of the numbers around their waistlines.
Though I don’t really drink any sorts of liquor, I must admit it was difficult not to try the excellent German wines and beers for the sake of quenching my curiosity. Weisse, weizen or weissbier refer to a wheat beer, which comes in 2 varieties: hefe (high yeast content) and kristall (clear, sparkling and served with a lemon slice). Apfelwein (apple wine), a Frankfurt specialty, was also very good.
The Vigil with the Pope
What a better way to conclude the World Youth day is by enduring that feeling of renewed spiritual awakening spent on a vigil night at the Marienfield. Walking 8 kilometers for an hour or almost two to get there was nothing to measure, what seemed to be immeasurable was the thought that we neither got hungry or too tired while hiking. Finally entering the field felt like we were on hallowed grounds: a place where I can meditate and be in communion with my Higher Self. Seeing all the other youths of different races march in jamboree is like witnessing Moses’ people traverse a long and arduous journey to Canaan. That one of a kind feeling transcended my inner being to another dimension.
We laid our sleeping mats at our respective areas in the open field with the usual setting of the summer sun still at 10 o’clock in the evening. The night was unbelievably cold, that we talked with smoke coming out from our mouths. “It’s like I’m gonna die with the coldness here, ‘dong Xavier,” said Fr. Torres, who decided not to join the other priests who went to con-celebrate the mass the next day.
And all commenced the following day (21st of August) in a Holy Mass with Pope Benedict XVI. I heard the youths repeatedly cried: “Papst Benedikto, We love you!” followed by two subsequent claps over and over again. So finally we received the final blessings of the pope. And yes, indeed “We have come to worship Him” Matt. 2:2 (The latter is also the official theme of WYD 2005).
***This is a tribute to Pope Benedict XVI who has recently resigned as head of the Catholic Church last 28 February 2013 due to health reasons. The article was first published in The Visayan Daily Star StarLife Sunday by columnist Dr. Maria Cecilia Genove (Dean, College of Mass Communication at Silliman University) on 18 December 2005 in the Philippines. ***