VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- More than 800,000 young people are expected to join Pope Benedict XVI in his native Germany in August for World Youth Day, which will include private youth discussions with the newly elected pontiff, according to Church organizers.
"Although opinions differ about the fact that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is now pope, most Germans will be happy and proud this is his first homecoming," said Nina Schmedding, spokeswoman for World Youth Day in Cologne.
"It will take a long time to change attitudes in Germany to the Church -- one papal visit won't be enough. But it's possible this could signal a new religious turning point," Schmedding said in a telephone interview.
Pope Benedict announced his decision to attend World Youth Day at his April 20 Mass with cardinals in Rome.
In an April 19 statement, Msgr. Heiner Koch, World Youth Day secretary-general, said organizers were "filled with gratitude and joy" at a German pope's election, adding that it had pointed "the way for our Church."
He said he would travel to Rome in late April to make final preparations for the Aug. 16-21 festival.
Schmedding said a Mass welcoming Pope Benedict would be held Aug. 18 in Cologne's 13th-century Gothic cathedral. World Youth Day will conclude with an open-air vigil and Mass in the city's Marienfeld suburb.
She said 220,000 young people ages 16-30 had already registered for World Youth Day, which was expected to attract at least 800,000 from 120 countries.
She said a "central feature" of the festival would be meetings at which young people would have a chance to "talk directly" with the pope in small groups.
"Benedict XVI has said he wants special contacts with the world's youth -- although he's continuing John Paul II's initiative, I think he'll give this event his own special accent," Schmedding said.
"It's important for Germany to be the Church's young face, and we hope our country will be changed by this. Perhaps young people who have little interest in the Church will start participating again," she said.
Up to 600 bishops and cardinals and 4,000 journalists are expected at World Youth Day, which will take place at 400 locations in the Cologne Archdiocese, as well as in nearby Bonn and Dusseldorf.
Organizers appealed April 6 for 20,000 volunteers, as well as 1,320 team leaders and support managers to help with the festival.
Karsten Horn, spokesman for Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, said it was not yet known if Pope Benedict would travel to other German cities or if the trip to Cologne would be the new pope's first outside Italy.
"At present, everything is possible," Horn told CNS.
"Having a German pope has created a new, special situation for us, and we're very glad he's accepted the invitation. It's immensely important for the Cologne Archdiocese -- a great chance for a new beginning in our religious life," he said.
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