The Rule of Saint Benedict states, in Chapter Three: “The reason we have said that all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.” This awareness was doubtless in the mind of our own newly elected Benedict XVI when he said in his first message that he wanted to join in the World Youth Day this summer. “I am particularly thinking of young people. To them, the privileged interlocutors of John Paul II, I send an affectionate embrace in hope, God willing, of meeting them at Cologne on the occasion of the next World Youth Day. With you, dear young people, I will continue to maintain a dialogue, listening to your expectations in an attempt to help you meet ever more profoundly the living, ever young, Christ.”
This assurance from the new pope relieved and gladdened the hearts of those who have spent years in preparation for this event. Cardinal Joachim Meissner of Cologne even joked before the conclave that he would not vote for anyone who would not promise to come. This will be a great moment for the church, and especially for the church in Germany. German Catholics have suffered greatly in the past century-and-a-half, first under the Kulturkampf of Otto von Bismarck and later under the persecution of the Nazis.
During the Bismarck period in the late 19th century, many Catholic institutions were closed, and members of religious orders were forced into exile. “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” the famous poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., was a byproduct of that persecution. So too were flourishing Catholic missions in Brazil and the United States, staffed by Jesuits, Redemptorists, School Sisters of Notre Dame and others who had been forced into exile.
In the 20th century, despite the witness of such saints as the Carmelite Edith Stein and such blesseds as Bernard Lichtenberg and Rupert Mayer, S.J., the heroic stance of the martyrs Alfred Delp, S.J., and the brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, the courageous leadership of the bishops Clemens von Gallen and Konrad von Preysing, German Catholics have been cruelly and unjustly vilified. This gathering in Cologne will be an expression of joy and hope, remembering the past but looking to the future. With so much written in recent weeks about the de-Christianization of Europe, World Youth Day is bound to show to the world that there is another side to that story.
The German Jesuits, for their part, have been planning for several years a special contribution: Magis2005 (www.magis2005.de). In collaboration with partners from around the world, they have organized a weeklong program, based on Ignatian spirituality, from Aug. 8 to 15. It is a combination of pilgrimage and group retreat. The Latin word magis describes the goal of the shared pilgrimage. It means “more,” the desire to live more closely with God and to know him more intimately, the desire to derive more from faith, from friendships and from oneself.
Three thousand young people, from over 20 countries and languages, will be split up into 100 international groups for the week. Together they will engage in a spiritual experiment by putting themselves consciously in a situation where they are open to God. Not only will they experience extraordinary things in an extraordinary group, they will be able to evaluate their shared experiences in an Ignatian fashion in order that spiritual fruit can be drawn from what is experienced: the experience of God.
The logistics for the project are well in hand. Participants will arrive in 11 different cities near Frankfurt on Aug. 8. They will be registered and placed with their groups and given food and accommodations. The groups will be international, so the experiments will be multilingual. The groups may engage in social or creative projects: preparing a street theater; putting together an event for the residents of a home for the disabled. The groups will move about on foot, so the organizers stress the need for economy in packing, recommending backpacks rather than suitcases. And the experiments will be a surprise to each group, so an openness and the joy of discovery are expected.
In all the groups there will be times for shared and private prayer as well as for faith-sharing sessions. The liturgies will be planned in the groups, and musicians are invited to bring their instruments. Daily chores, especially kitchen duty, will allow each group to care for itself.
Some of the additional notes provided are obviously an attempt to reassure and to keep Alles in Ordnung. “Men and women will sleep in different quarters, participants should be willing to engage in all parts of the program, in general no alcoholic beverages.” I suppose the “in general” recognizes that, hey, this is Germany, and everybody is over 18.
The final stage of the pilgrimage retreat will take place from Aug. 13 to 15 in the camp grounds at the Lorelei, the storied cliff that overlooks the town of St. Goarshausen on the Rhine. The rocks and the swift currents of the river were dangerous to boatmen and gave rise to many myths and legends. In more recent times, the Lorelei has been the site of European youth gatherings. In 1951, to heal the wounds of war and to work toward lasting peace, 35,000 young people gathered there in solidarity.
On the morning of the feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15, a Mass will be celebrated by the local bishop, Franz Kamphuis of Limburg, joined by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the superior general of the Jesuits. After the Mass, the participants will hike down to the river, where they will embark in two large Rhine steamers for the trip to Bad Godesberg, a suburb of Cologne, close to the acommodations. The Rhine journey will be the final part of Magis2005, but it will be the beginning of the World Youth Day activities. Café Magis will be open at St. Alban’s in the center of Cologne as a spiritual center for the Magis participants, and there will be other Ignatian programs during the week, including those at the Aloysiuskolleg in Bonn-Bad Godesberg.
Although this is an Ignatian project, it is far from exclusively Jesuit. Among the groups with international networks that are participating are the Religious of the Sacred Heart, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, the Sisters of Notre Dame, the Mary Ward Sisters, the Society of Helpers (whom I knew in my youth as the Helpers of the Holy Souls and as a young priest as the Auxiliatrices des âmes du Purgatoire) and the Sisters of Christian Doctrine. The enthusiasm is widespread and, if testimony from those who have been part of previous World Youth Days is taken, it is contagious.
The Magis2005 goals are simple: develop your relationship with God; meet people from other cultures; grow in faith. This is a lot more than just a good party, though it promises to be that too. It can be a life-changing and world-changing experience.