Almost 50 priests and religious of the Legionaries of Christ
and thousands of Regnum Christi members and friends gathered
among the 1 million participants at Pope Benedict’s World Youth
Day in Cologne. Regnum Christi members helped out in various
ways: the Vocation.com coffee house near the Cathedral offered
a number of musical performances, with all the performers urging
their young audience to join in Eucharistic Adoration at the
Vocation.com chapel and to go to confession. Religious and diocesan
priests heard confessions not only at the coffee house but
at numerous sites throughout Cologne. Regnum Christi members also pitched
in when needed elsewhere, including twice responding to emergency requests
for help in distributing food to the massive crowd.
Elsbett, LC, born in London and raised in Germany, Canada
and the U.S., now serving in Vienna, Austria, was among
some forty Legionary priests and religious who helped to serve
the multitudes at World Youth Day. He answers questions regarding
Q: How would you characterize the World Youth Day
Fr. George Elsbett LC: The most incredible six days of
my life. To hear more than 1 million young Catholics
shouting “Benedetto! Benedetto!” and to see them falling on their
knees during the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament at Mass.
They were walking, singing, praying -- interminable lines of youth
from every possible corner of the world. There were 1,500
Catholic kids from Syria. Several kilometers of the autobahn were
turned into a parking lot for buses.
Q: Did the WYD
have an impact on the people of Cologne who were
Fr. Elsbett: Clearly, yes. The policemen were very strict
on Tuesday morning, the first day in Cologne, when already
300,000 kids were in the city. But by the afternoon
the same police were sitting in a corner drinking a
beer and greeting us with "Hi, Father!" as they realized
they would have almost nothing to do outside the massive
events. The police and armed forces where dumbfounded, so were
the journalists. They had no idea such a crowd of
young people could be so well behaved.
We saw it too
at the Senats Hotel where we had the Vocation.com coffee
house. 17,000 youth visited the coffee house. We also received
many priests and religious who were invited to give their
testimony or to offer information materials about their seminaries and
religious communities. There were constant confessions, Eucharistic Adoration, masses, witness
talks, and music. We even saw a turnaround in the
Hotel Staff: conversions, conversions, conversions!!!
Q: Some groups tried to promote
a secular agenda, passing out condoms and such things. How
did the attendees react?
Fr. Elsbett: There had been plans to
hand out as many as 1 million condoms by public
agencies and non-governmental organizations. In modern, secular Germany, they use
to provide this kind of “support” any time more than
a hundred young people are gathered for an event because
they think it’s “impossible that they keep clean.” But the
World Youth Day kids were throwing the condoms into garbage
cans in front of journalists. I also know a 20-year-old
young man who teamed up with other lay people to
produce a counter-poster against the “free sex” campaign launched by
“Condoms4Life,” an affiliate of “Catholics for a Free Choice”. They
printed posters showing a bride with bridegroom and used sentences
like “Abstinence works” or “Free Catholics make a REAL choice.”
And they did it all within 24 hours.
Q: How busy
were you with your priestly duties?
Fr. Elsbett: After the vigil
with the Holy Father on Saturday, the adoration tent on
Marienfeld – which could hold thousands – was totally overflowing.
I started hearing confessions at 11 PM that evening and
finished on Sunday at 4 PM, and I wasn’t the
only one who had to do an extra shift, with
only a short pause for breakfast and Lauds. It was
flabbergastingly incredible. About 2,000 Regnum Christi members were also busy
promoting confessions among other participants. God bless the lady who
came by and distributed coffee to the priests confessing --
at 3:00 in the morning.
Already on Thursday I had made
the “mistake” of doing my Eucharistic hour at midnight in
the Cathedral after working in the vocation.com coffee house. Even
at midnight the Cathedral was packed with kids and I
got swamped for confession. Tears come to my eyes just
thinking about it.
Q: It seems like the weather is almost
always part of the adventure at World Youth Day, whether
it’s extreme heat or pouring rain. Was that the case
Fr. Elsbett: The weather forecast for Saturday was thunderstorms
and hail. All Bavaria was underwater; all around Cologne it
rained and poured. But over the World Youth Day area
there we felt hardly a drop of rain and during
hours even the clouds disappeared. At least during the day,
it was nicely warm! The media spoke of the Pope’s
"weather angel." Two days after the event, I was on
my way to serve as chaplain for a summer camp
in Salzburg, Austria, but just a few hours away from
Cologne I couldn’t cross the high way bridge at Augsburg
because of too much water from all the rain during
Q: Any closing thoughts?
Fr. Elsbett: There are so many
great stories, like the sixty Brazilian kids from a group
that normally sends only three or four to World Youth
Day. They explained, "We wanted to show that it’s not
about John Paul II or Benedict, it’s about the pope
and about Jesus. That’s what we wanted to show the
Holy Father, that is why we came."
I hope you all
had the chance to read the speeches of the pope
(if not check out vatican.va or zenit.org). They
were constantly interrupted by the clapping and the chant of
the young people and they are well worth a profound