Cologne (AsiaNews) In a scenario of mystical beauty and simplicity, Benedict XVI this evening joined more than 800,000 youth from 190 countries worldwide for the vigil at the esplanade of Marienfeld. Together with them were bishops from Germany and elsewhere around the world, cardinals and more than 9,000 priests.
The sky over Cologne was gently lit by the fading glow of sunset and the hill where the altar-stage was set was illuminated by thousands of lights. When the vehicle bearing the pope arrived, it was time for feasting and joyous uproar. But then, once the vigil began, the hymns, dancing and lights paved the way for prayer.
After Psalm 139 (accompanied by superb musical arrangements) was recited, there came the testimonies of two youth: a seminarian from Rome; a girl from Monaco.
Before the Vigil, the WYD Cross arrived in a procession. The pope then blessed a bell which will bear the name of John Paul II. On it was inscribed: "God I praise you, God I proclaim you. The Holy Father Benedict has consecrated me; I will be called John Paul II". A youth began to ring the bell; the assembly sang a Taizé canon, Laudate omnes gentes. Joy, enthusiasm, thoughtful reflection and recollection of the sacrifice of Frère Roger were mixed.
After the Gospel, Bendict XVI delivered a powerful homily [which we reproduce separately] in several languages which was greeted by continuous applause.
The vigil continued with veneration of the icon of the Madonna of the WYD, with the Ave Maria prayer in different languages and singing of the Acatistos, an ancient hymn of the Eastern church. This was followed by the singing of the Magnificat.
Before the Celebration of Light, an Argentinian juggler performed two acts, first with hats and then with flaming torches. The pope spent some time with him and his assistant, blessing them.
Some youth, a boy from the Holy Land and another from Germany presented the "light of Bethlehem" to Benedict XVI; this is a torch of light brought from the grotto in Bethlehem last Advent. Five youth representing the five continents left the stage carrying five lights down the large esplanade, a symbol of the whole world.
Feasting and prayer were again intertwined in the Eucharistic procession, preceded by a group of female dancers from Ghana. Behind the monstrance were young people bearing rolls containing all the prayers written by their peers in these days.
Adoration of the consecrated host followed. While the choir and the orchestra sang a Taizé canon and some traditional hymns (the Adoro Te Devote of St Thomas Aquinas), the crowd of 800,000 knelt in silence and at the end applauded.
The pope, taking up the monstrance, blessed the assembly in silence and the musical strains of a flute and peals of the "John Paul II" bell could be heard.
There is a new development which did not take place in the vigils of previous WYDs: the consecrated host was taken to the adoration tent on the field of Marienfeld. Throughout the night, youth will be able to spend moments of adoration, prayer and silence.