Young pilgrim reflects on World Youth Day - 29 August 2005

 Duke Razon, 20, is a medical student at Barts and the London Hospital and parishioner at Holy Apostles, Pimlico, central London. He talked with Jo Siedlecka about his experiences at World Youth Day in Cologne.

Duke said: "The entire experience was unforgettable. I am still reliving different things that we did. It was a lovely journey to Cologne. We got up very early and on the way there our leaders suggested we swap seats so we could sit with someone we didn't know. That was a great icebreaker.

"Our home for the next few nights was a large gymnasium with two big halls. There were communal showers - which we weren't so sure of to begin with but in the end didn't care about. Some people found gym mats to put their sleeping bags on. I found the first night rather difficult as they kept bright lights on all night - something to do with safety regulations. After a while we got used to putting something over our eyes.

"The next day we watched the opening Mass on a big screen in Dusseldorf. Everyone laughed when we saw that in the Offertory they brought up some German beer. I was glad to see a Filipino priest at the Mass. Later I had my first encounter with a Dutch girl and swapped e-mails.

"That evening we went to a concert and danced. The trains were absolutely heaving as we made our way home. It was great to see so many different nationalities. But I was surprised that the transport system was so badly organised. They didn't seem to have been prepared for so many extra people. We got back by about 11.

"The next morning we went to our host church for our first catechesis session which was given by an archbishop from the Vatican in charge of the penitentiary. It was a beautiful talk. I remember he spoke about Our Lady and the importance of silence. It was such a contrast to the music which they had begun the morning with.

"Later we went to Cologne where we had to wait in a very long queue for our food. Then we visited the Cathedral. It was such a beautiful building although it was so crowded it was difficult to pray. We could only be tourists. I slept on the steps of the Cathedral for an hour or so and woke feeling refreshed. The square in front of the Cathedral was packed with people singing and dancing. Bishop Alan and Bishop Bernard came there to talk with us.

That evening we went to the Anglican church of All Saints in Cologne for Mass with Cardinal Cormac, both bishops and our entire Westminster group. The church community was so welcoming. Cardinal Cormac was very upbeat and funny. Sophie Oliveri lead the music which was wonderful. There was a tremendous feeling of solidarity and I felt proud of our cardinal.

That night I went for a drink with some new friends.

"The next day's catachesis was with the Archbishop of Dolen. He spoke in a loud rousing manner on the theme of: 'is the church relevant?" He talked about how we can live out our faith - giving God's Son human flesh. "Joy is the infallible sign of God's presence" he told us. Jesus' first word was "come" and his last one was "go" . It was a commissioning. We are to be His hands and feet" . I felt it was very profound.

We trudged to Solingen after that for lunch and then enjoyed a free afternoon. Father Pat took a group to Dusseldorf where we gathered around a big screen to watch the Pope's arrival in Cologne. I realised all my my life so far I had only known a Pope who was very ill and not active. We then took a boat ride on the Rhine ourselves and had a beer and celebrated some people's exam results and one person who had got into Oxford. It was a wonderful afternoon. Later we secretly got a cake for someone's birthday and then went for a Chinese meal. Up to that point I think we had been all just been tourists.

In the restaurant Fr Pat reminded us of what we were doing. The new Pope was a sign of Christ's love for us. Unity with the Pope and belief in the Eucharist are why we are Catholics, he said. In the past people had given their lives for this. There would be times, he warned us, when the euphoria would wear off but we mustn't ever lose heart. The Devil will knock you and try to make you feel that God doesn't love you but you must never forget that God loves you so much - he illustrated this by stretching out his arms very widely. After that we all held hands and prayed together in the restaurant. It was a great witness.

"From that point I felt I had a much greater sense of purpose and that night I slept much better.

"The next day we prepared for the Stations of the Cross. We rehearsed the Passion play we had done in our parish during Lent. The night we performed the play in the school playground while other groups did a modern analogy. It was a very solemn evening with lots of Taize singing and we didn't need to be told to kneel. That night Fr Pat said that God appreciates it when we tell his story.

"On Saturday it was lovely going to the Marienfeld. We left early in the morning and worked up an appetite walking the last few kilometres from the village of Horrem to the field. There were people as far as the eye could see and as the night fell it was just an ocean of candle light. The liturgy of that night vigil was wonderful, with beautiful music from many countries. I was impressed the way the Pope moved from one language to another. After he left, the music continued for a while and I remember some wonderful jugglers.

"We got into our sleeping bags and I had the best night's sleep there under the stars. By about 4.30am I woke up again - feeling really cold. There was a heavy dew. We all hoped and prayed that it wouldn't rain.

"After drifting back to sleep again I woke up to the sound of singing and prayers. It was great to welcome back Pope Benedict and the Mass was wonderful. The Pope gave a very good homily in which he spoke of the search for spirituality and warned of the dangers of 'do it yourself religion' . His message was simple and direct. He called on us to be loyal to the church's teaching and to be God's messengers.

"I have really changed my view of Pope Benedict. I didn't know much about him before but the popular view always said he was very conservative. He may be traditional and very intellectual, but he is so full of love - you could feel it when he spoke - that I hope he feels supported and loved by us too.

"It took a very long time to get away from the Marienfeld. On the way back to Horrem the crowds were very dense and felt quite dangerous at one point with one group tried to break away and climb up a slope.

It was quite nice to get back to our gymnasium floor and I felt good that last night. They even turned down the lights.

"We had a great journey home. I am really discerning my own vocation now. I feel strongly that my life is in God's hands. Throughout the week I feel I developed a sense of my relationship with the Church. I have a much greater sense of solidarity with everyone - the pilgrims and the priests and bishops.

"I also made so many friends. It has left me feeling inspired and energised. It was great privilege to have been able to go to World Youth Day in Cologne."

Share this story