Pope Benedict XVI addressed young people from a ship in the Rhine River on the first day of a visit to his native Germany. He urged them to open their hearts wide to Christ because they lose nothing of what makes life free and beautiful by doing this.
To start his visit in Cologne, Pope Benedict sailed along the river on a 270-foot cruise ship. He was accompanied by a group of young people, and many others turned out early to get the best positions to see him from the river bank.
There was a joyful and colorful atmosphere on both banks of the Rhine River as the young people cheered, clapped, and waved flags from many countries.
The pope took his place on the bow of the ship, appearing happy to be home and greeting those on the ship and on land shouting out his name.
Then a young girl welcomed the pope in English.
"Welcome to the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne," she said. "There are hundreds of thousands of young people from the world that followed the invitation of Jesus Christ. They have started their way and have come like the three Magi to worship Him."
Pope Benedict then addressed the crowd. You have come from near and far, he said, walking the streets of the world and the pathways of life.
"I also greet with affection those of you who have not been baptized, and those of you who do not yet know Christ or have not yet found a home in the Church," said Benedict XVI.
The pope thanked all those who have come to Cologne to celebrate World Youth Day and had words of gratitude for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who inspired the idea of calling young people from all over the world to join together to celebrate Christ.
The pope also issued his call to young people.
"Open wide your hearts to God," he said. "Let yourselves be surprised by Christ! Let him have the right of free speech during these days!"
Pope Benedict encouraged young people to serve Christ, whatever the cost. He told them they would lose nothing of what makes life free, beautiful, and great.