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Hundreds of Thousands Attend Catholic Youth Gathering in Cologne


The Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations have begun in Cologne, Germany. Hundreds of thousands are in the city. They say they hope to gain a stronger spirituality and a deeper faith and are certain that although he is different, the new pope will continue along the same path of his predecessor.

They are singing, cheering, and clapping in the streets. The joyful youth of the Roman Catholic Church have been gathering in Cologne for the arrival of Pope Benedict who will be spending four days in the city. The high point of his first visit home will be an open-air mass for the young people who have come from all corners of the world.

The young people say that being here is an incredible experience: being able to meet so many others from different countries and share their ideals and hopes for the future and being able to join together, all with the same desire to deepen their faith.

Matt Worthing arrived in Cologne with a large group from California.

"It has already been a really different experience, really spiritual, really amazing to see how many different people there are, to hear all the different languages and to experience how many Catholics there are, how big of a presence there is," he said.

Michelle Carter, who has come from Houston in Texas, agrees. She says the atmosphere is very special and a unique opportunity that no one should miss.

"I am excited of meeting Catholics from around the world," she said. "You rarely get out of your own little circle of Catholicism in America to meet people around the world that have your same faith and I would like to see how they pursue their faith and how they celebrate it as well."

The young people say it is a powerful and moving time in their lives. They say there is a special energy in Cologne at the moment. They describe it as unbelievable, amazing and wonderful.

But most have not forgotten the real reason they are here. This is not just a big party for them. Like this participant, Emily Fenuky, they have come to build their faith and to pray, to come together and be united and to search for the Lord.

"I want to find God and get closer to him," she said. "I like the sense of belonging, you know, you wave at everyone and they smile at you."

These youngsters are anxiously waiting for the pope to arrive on Thursday. Most say, so far, he has being doing a good job. He was elected just four months ago, when Pope John Paul II died after heading the Catholic Church for 27 years.

This will be the first World Youth Day with a different pope. Young people here say this pope has a different personality than Pope John Paul II and agree that Pope Benedict has a hard act to follow.

"I think it will, but I think he may be up to the challenge to do so," said Michelle Carter. "It is going to be tough because Pope John Paul II was pope for so long that so many people, especially my age, that is the only pope they know."

Michelle Carter is 19 years old. She, like many others, says she likes Pope Benedict. She rejects criticism that he is too conservative, and other youngsters agree that he is just the spokesman of church teaching.

"I would like for him to keep a lot of our basic morals and beliefs intact and not change them with the changing times," she said. "I do not think that is right. I think you should stay as close as you can to the way it was."

The young people expect the pope to tell them how, as Catholics, they need to set an example and be the light of Christ for the world. Pope Benedict has said he wants to give new impulse to the faith of young people.

Ruth Aragon, 24, from New Mexico, says the pope will show them how they should live their lives. It is the first time she has attended a World Youth Day, which are held every two years in a different city.

Ms. Aragon says she thinks there will be a different flavor to this World Youth Day, but it will be no less special. She says everyone is excited and it will also be a World Youth Day in memory of the old pope.

"I do not know that he will have the same flair, but we will love him just the same and we will follow his teachings just the same," she said. "I think they had as lot of the same teachings because I think he was a close confidant of Pope John Paul the Second, so I think the teachings will be similar. But his communication with young adults may be a little bit different, may not be as great as Pope John Paul, but we will love him just the same."

Pope Benedict will be watched very closely to see just what kind of connection he manages to establish with young people. And the new pope knows he is being put to the test here in his own country, in his own language.