The Chapel Team Ramstein, consisting of 270 children and adults, participated in the World Youth Day and an open-air Mass with Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne, Germany, Sunday in what was dubbed “Operation Papa Benedict.”
More than 800,000 people participated in the event, including 2,000 military members and their families who traveled from bases across Europe and the United States, said Chaplain (Maj.) David Fitz-Patrick, 435th Air Base Wing senior Catholic chaplain.
“Part of the enthusiasm is that it (was) the first time that this German pope has returned (to Germany),” said the chaplain. “This certainly (was) a historic occasion, perhaps to hear (him) give some indication of where he sees the direction of his papacy going.”
Five buses and one van carried KMC members to World Youth Day, while many more traveled on their own.
The Archdiocese of Military Services hosted a week of special events for the Catholic military youths who made the pilgrimage. Events leading up to the Mass included prayer sessions, music performances and religious art exhibits.
“It was a wonderful experience for the kids and for (the archdiocese) to take the time to get together and have a program just for us,” said Karen Hayes who led the first Ramstein delegation of nine high school students.
The group departed on Aug. 15 and spent the week staying with German host families. “The kids were able to meet up with friends they hadn’t seen in a long time and meet the archbishop,” she said.
The second delegation of 49 pilgrims left Ramstein at 5 a.m. Saturday to spend the night sleeping in the Marienfeld, or Mary’s Field, where the Mass started at 10 a.m. the following day. The third delegation, with about 200 pilgrims, departed at 3 a.m. Sunday.
Maj. William Haag, Air Forces Europe A3, said “It was one of the greatest events in our life.” He served as a bus captain who attended the Mass with his family and was able to see the Pope up close in the pope mobile.
Matt Lee, a seminarian who flew in from Cincinnati, Ohio, to help chaperon the Ramstein youth, separated from the Air Force as a computer programmer stationed at Vogelweh to become a priest. He participated in the 1993 World Youth Day and wanted to help out again.
“It was absolutely amazing,” he said. “World Youth Day is the best opportunity for young people to see how universal our Catholic faith is. It enables young people to connect with other young people from all over the world … It’s sometimes difficult for young people to express their faith, but at this event thousands of kids their age showed the same Catholic faith.”