Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 29, 2005
Bumps along the WYD road
Selfish and party hardy pilgrims shock the faithful
By TESS CREBBIN
Catholic News Service
A woman from Los Angeles dragged her heavy suitcase through Marienfeld, the huge papal Mass site outside Cologne.
Her assigned seating was far away, through masses of people. The suitcase was impossible for her to carry on her own, so she asked for help.
First she sought help from Germans.
"You may have a problem, but I have a much bigger problem," said a middle-aged man. "Your dirty shoes are on my sleeping bag."
"We can't leave our posts, sorry," said one security guard, as thousands of pilgrims streamed past.
"Look for the Salvadoran flag, ask the Salvadorans; they always help," said another passerby, a woman, who offered to go toward the nearest flag to get help.
The Salvadorians helped
The nearby group from the Archdiocese of San Salvador was celebrating Mass, but sent someone to help the woman.
"For us, faith is not an empty phrase," said Karla Martineo Herrera, 22, of San Salvador. "Our nation carries the name of our saviour, Jesus Christ, and so we feel a special responsibility to carry his message throughout the world and to act accordingly."
Although most pilgrims characterized World Youth Day as a wonderful experience of faith and fellowship, for some it was a difficult journey. One experienced journalist said pilgrim "horror stories" were too numerous to recount.
Before the Aug. 20 papal vigil, one female pilgrim who had not gotten food and was hungry asked other pilgrims for help.
"We didn't have a problem getting food; we ate very well, thank you," said a Lebanese priest, but he did not offer food.
A group of Vietnamese immigrant pilgrims from Aalborg, Denmark, was about to begin eating. The woman spoke to them, but they did not offer to share their food.
Again, the Salvadorans helped. Hearing of the hungry woman, everyone in the group opened their backpacks and offered sausages, yogurt, bread and fruit.
After the pope left Marienfeld Aug. 20, an ambulance convoy transported disabled pilgrims in wheelchairs back to Cologne.
But the streets were blocked off for hours for security reasons, and the convoy remained parked, in darkness and without heat, on the side of the road for nearly two hours.
"I am cold and very, very tired," said one wheelchair-bound French pilgrim, Julien, 20, who would not give his last name. His friend Rafael, also in a wheelchair, tried to crack jokes to pass the time.
"Refusing food (to others) would be unthinkable for us," said Marcel Meissner, 22, of Geldern, Germany. He spoke after hearing the story Aug. 21 while waiting for his train home.
"We just came from Marienfeld, where we have spent the night, and I think the majority of the pilgrims really came because they are believers, but some are here just to party.
"Also, even those who came to pray and worship sometimes do not realize that being a good Christian also means you have to be willing to share what you have," he said.
"For instance, we allowed someone to sleep in our tent last night during the vigil, because it was cold and they had no tent of their own," he added.
"Did you know a lot of pilgrim groups are fighting among each other and even splitting?" asked Maria Paredes, 60, of Alhambra, Calif. She attended World Youth Day with her daughter, Nathalie, 17.
"We were surprised when we met another group from Los Angeles who said they had split up because they could not get along anymore. There is a lot of this going on, because they are not the first ones to have told us that. It is a shame when the spirit here is supposed to be fellowship and unity."