A group from Bakersfield, Calif., is staying in the same hotel as the Vatican press corps. Several of the young participants told me Friday morning that although they had purchased a full meal package, with tickets for lunch and dinner each day, so far they had been unable to use them because of the massive lines. In the end, they decided that Burger King was a better solution.
The same group said they had been discouraged from attending the pope’s cruise down the Rhine because the crowds would be too massive. Instead they watched a jumbo screen projection in a Cologne stadium, but because of the enclosed space they had no air on a very warm and humid afternoon, and some of the young people became ill. They ended up standing in a stadium tunnel, where there was a bit of breeze, and catching a sliver of the big screen.
A group from Dublin said they weren’t even sure where their luggage would be the next day, since the lodging they had been assigned couldn’t keep it during the day and they had nowhere else to put it. World Youth Day organizers had suggested they leave it on their bus, but they weren’t using the same bus throughout the day.
Nor were the difficulties confined to reporters and pilgrims.
Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles, for example, told me that the bishops who took one of the five boats accompanying the pope on the river were more or less abandoned when they got off the boat, and did not arrive at their hotel until several hours later, at which point the meals they were supposed to have were long gone.
Despite the hiccups, many of the participants seemed philosophical.
"It’s a pilgrimage," Zavala said. "Difficulties are part of the experience."
Tomorrow: Meetings with political leaders in the morning, Muslim leaders at 6pm Cologne time, then it’s off to the Marienfeld, where the youth will be gathering in vigil.