Altar boys show their colors

Pope Benedict XVI. will be around 53 this Wednesday.Meeting 000 altar boys from all over the world. At the weekly general audience, the head of the Church wants to emphasize the importance of altar servers for the Church. Already on Tuesday, a prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square was on the agenda as another highlight.

Rome is colorful these days. The splashes of color are provided by around 53.000 altar servers from 17 countries. Most of them come from Germany, a vanilla-colored neckerchief is their distinguishing mark. Hannah wears one of them. "We only arrived by bus today, which was quite exhausting," says the 14-year-old altar girl from Nurtingen. Now she is in Rome and is looking forward to the papal audience on Wednesday, "but of course also to the city and the pool in the hotel."Hannah is doing exactly what the organizers of the international altar servers' meeting want: "The real encounter will take place in the streets and squares," says Peter Hahnen, vice president of the organizing altar servers' association CIM. His wish is for the young people to make contacts among themselves. According to his observations in Piazza Navona in the center of Rome, "they do it quite well".

Of course, altar service is not me The core of the ministrant days was a common evening prayer in St. Peter's Square on Tuesday and the general audience with Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday morning. In doing so, Hahnen hopes for a "strong word" from the Pope to his young employees – something that recognizes their commitment and encourages them. Because serving at the altar is no longer as natural as it was 30 years ago. "Altar servers must show their colors," says Hahnen. In this sense, Julia from Erfurt is also an altar server with heart and soul. She knows the experience of friends not being able to understand her commitment to the church. "But I've always gone to church, it's just part of my life.

"Ministrant meeting and the topic of abuse One topic that has preoccupied the public over the past few months with regard to the Church does not play a major role at the meeting of altar servers: sexual abuse. "Disgusting" is what Julia calls such offenses. He says it is important that these come to light. "Unfortunately, there is something like this everywhere," she says, but corresponding cases in the Church are "raised quite differently". According to CIM Vice-President Hahnen, the abuse debate has had no effect on registration numbers. One should not "close one's eyes to the problems," he emphasizes, referring to the educational work of the episcopal pastoral care of altar servers. But the focus of the current pilgrimage is on celebrating together and honoring the altar servers, who are not simply "living candlesticks.

Own place in planning In the future, the altar boys will even have their own place in Rome to which they can make a pilgrimage. At the Calixtus Catacomb, where the tomb of the altar boy patron Tarcisius is believed to be located, a pilgrimage destination for young people is to be created. A statue of the saint arrived in St. Peter's Square early Monday morning – after a long tour of Switzerland, Luxembourg and most recently Hungary. Now it is to be blessed by the Pope before it is finally installed on Thursday on the ancient Via Appia. The Swiss artist Bernhard Lang designed the bronze statue, which stands unobtrusively like a child in front of the mighty facade of St. Peter's Basilica, despite its height of five meters and weight of five tons. "A saint you don't look up to like a hero, but you look back to your childhood," Lang says of his character. Based on photos of altar boys, he first created small models in a month-long process, then finally the original form of the sculpture. The statue was cast in seven parts and welded together at the Ruetschi bell foundry in Aarau, Switzerland. It took a month for the surface to be polished and patinated. "It was the children themselves who gave me important impulses for my work," says Lang. The idea of presenting the saint "as one of us" arose in a joint conversation. Children are always on the move, wanting to be involved, says the artist – and that's exactly how he wanted to portray his Tarcisius: a walking boy with his hands clasped together. "In his hands he holds a secret that we do not see but feel."

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