I've finally found a few minutes of time to write a concluding blog entry concerning World Youth Day 2005. I will go over a few final thoughts about the pilgrimage, and some interesting information I've learned throughout the trip.
International Travel Tips
This being my first trip outside the U.S., I tried to prepare for the worst in everything, and I think I did a good job. I decided to withdraw 150 euros before leaving, so there would be no hassle in Europe trying to get money; this turned out to be the best way to do things, because many stores and restaurants didn't accept credit cards for purchases under 20 euros because the credit card processing system in Europe is much less efficient than ours in the U.S.
I was also lucky that my bank was in a 'global alliance' with Deutsche Bank in Germany, so I could withdraw money from any DB ATM without any transaction fee—only the exchange rate applied. Since a few of the meals (mostly breakfasts) were provided for, I didn't need much more money at all; other expenses were paid in USD before the trip (lesson: come prepared, with as much work done in the U.S. beforehand!). I was fortunate to not have any problems with theives or pickpockets; although there were many times when trains and public places were so crowded, someone could've easily stolen something from my pocket or backpack without me noticing; but that's why I put locks on two of the zipper sections of my backpack!
In terms of electronics, I was lucky to have an Apple iBook and iPod, because the provided AC adaptors auto-switch between 120-240V (most of Europe uses a two-prong 240V 50Hz electical system). All I needed to charge my computer and iPod (my camera, which broke, didn't need any charging...) was a U.S. to European plug adaptor (about $3 here in the states). Some guys fried their razors, irons, and other electronic devices, though, because they were using cheap power transformers or none at all (which can be quite dangerous).
For phone calls, it is much cheaper to go to a store somewhere in Europe and buy an international calling card there or pay for an international call (it's around 10 cents per minute!). Many hotels had a courtesy Internet computer in their lobbies, and there are many 'Internet cafés' around where I was staying, so you can pay a modest fee for half an hour or longer of Internet access. (I paid almost 10 euros for access in downtown Köln, where there is public WiFi access; they accepted all major credit cards).
I am now a great fan of Crépes and Nutella, two of the best inventions in France, ever. These two food items are widespread favorites in the places to which I travelled, but they haven't quite caught on in the States. Of course, I found it amazing that no one uses ZipLoc bags in Europe...
Remarks on WYD
After leaving Marienfeld, our St. Louis group walked and waited for nearly 5 hours until finally reaching our bus and heading back to the hotel. Some groups were held up for 10 hours or more! Germany was not prepared for such a large number of people, and I hope that many in Europe (especially in Germany) will scratch their heads and wonder why so many youth would participate in such a religious activity...
It is because Christ is present in the Eucharist and his body is a living, active body that all these youth came together in Köln, Germany! Seeing (and, for myself, touching the hand of) the Pope was a wonderful experience, as was seeing the million-plus youth, seminarians and priests on Marienfeld... but none of this would be possible without Jesus' presence.
Through all the cultures, groups of people, and regions of the world that I saw represented at World Youth Day, the Body of Christ's universal appeal shined. I was amazed at the different religious traditions and ways of worshipping the Lord. The trip was an eye-opener to me, as I have a somewhat narrow vision of ways that we can praise God; I've seen pious reverent worship of the Eucharist and praise and worship music... but on the pilgrimage I watched dances and music where many youth would gather in a circle and sing songs of praise while dancing in step to African tribal music, and I would see large groups of people quietly praying the rosary in their own languages, amidst other ways of worshipping God.
It was amazing how little the languages of the different people mattered throughout WYD; many people speak English as a second language, so communicating with those people was not difficult. However, during Masses, the universal nature of the Catholic ('universal') Church made itself clearly known, as people from different corners of the world knelt in reverence before the representation of the Lamb's Supper—Jesus' sacrificial act in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist—without a thought about what language the Priest was using on the altar (I attended Masses in English, Dutch, German and Latin).
Americans vs. the Rest of the World
All of this reminds me of how true the joke is which states: How can you tell the difference between an American and a non-American? The American only speaks English! I felt fairly dumb when I could see many other teenagers speaking French, German, Spanish and English (or any combination of those languages), whereas I could only speak English and enough Spanish to say, 'Hi.'
Blogging in Europe
While at the Seminarian's Audience with Pope Benedict XVI, I met a few British seminarians who were very courteous and talked to us for a while. Interestingly, one of the seminarians asked if I was in the St. Louis group, and when I replied in the affirmative, he told me he had read my blog! That was a inspiring to me; at least one other person reads this besides me and my family ;-)
I really enjoyed sending all the pictures and blog entries back to the States while in Europe; now that a new school year is beginning, I'll have a little less time for website maintenance, but I will find time here and there. Good luck to anyone else beginning the new school year!
Check out the following Links: