Sydney is to hold the next World Youth Day celebration in 2008. This was announced by Pope Benedict XVI at the final Mass of World Youth Day in Cologne on 21 August.
Cardinal George Pell had presented a strong case with the Holy See for WYD to come to Australia in the hope, as he put it, of breaking "through the fog of apathy and disinterest that surrounds institutionalised religion in the West" - and particularly in Australia.
The event has been held in Europe, Asia, North and South America, but not in Oceania or Africa.
World Youth Day, begun at a time when Pope John Paul II had established his reputation as a charismatic figure with a special appeal to young people, has always drawn enormous crowds. The 1995 event in Manila drew what was perhaps the largest crowd in human history, estimated at up to five million.
Between 2,000 and 2,500 young Australians attended WYD in Cologne from 15-21 August, making it the largest pilgrimage group in Australian history. They were joined by Cardinal George Pell, three archbishops, 19 bishops and some 90 priests. Overall, an estimated 800,000 attended from all over the world.
Test Cricketer and World Youth Day Ambassador, Matthew Hayden, had been encouraging young Australians to make the trip to Germany. He has made no secret of his own religious commitment - rare among today's prominent sportsmen - by making the sign of the cross whenever he completes a test century.
"For thousands of young people," he said recently, "World Youth Day has been a life changing experience. It is not just a religious event, but the World Youth Day is an opportunity for youth to grow and be challenged on every level, morally, spiritually and culturally."
He expressed "great optimism that the Cologne World Youth Day experience will have a positive bearing on many young Australians, our future leaders."
During WYD, ten American bishops gave catechetical sessions, among them, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington DC and Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee. Cardinal Francis Stafford, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary and former head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, also provided catechesis, while others to address various groups were Cardinal Pell and Cardinal Francis Arinze.
The catechetical sessions were arranged by language groups and took place in various venues in the cities of Dusseldorf, Cologne and Bonn. The sessions included a teaching by the bishop, interaction between the bishop and the youth, music and liturgy.
Besides catechesis, a major feature of WYD was the Sacrament of Penance, with a five-page reflection prepared by Father Klaus Kluger included in the pilgrim's handbook. It used ten New Testament texts highlighting the meaning and importance of confession.
Father Kluger set up a reconciliation centre, divided into areas for preparation and thanksgiving. Between these was a pavilion with about 100 tables serving as reconciliation stations, distant enough from one another to ensure privacy. Several hundred priests were on hand to hear confessions in various languages.
Among the exhibits at WYD was one dedicated to the student martyrs from Munich who stood up to Nazism. Titled "White Rose: Faces of Friendship," the exhibit was created by a group of students and professors of Communion and Liberation, who gathered writings, photographs and direct testimonies from relatives and friends of the members of the group.
"White Rose" was the name of a group begun by six friends of different faiths - five university students and a professor, who "dared to defy Hitler," said the exhibit.
In nine months, the group wrote and distributed leaflets attacking Nazism. Eventually, in February 1943, they were captured, accused of treason for spreading anti-Nazi propaganda, and either executed or imprisoned.
Monsignor Helmut Moll of the Archdiocese of Cologne, theological Consultor of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Sainthood, had suggested that the students be presented as role models at WYD.
The martyrs, he said, "fought to defend the dignity of man and religion in face of Nazism ... Our society is poor in Christian models É We need figures who are an example of faith, hope and charity. These martyrs are real models of faith who have something to say to all our young people".
Prior to World Youth Day, more than 2,700 American youth, representing 125 college, diocesan and parish groups dedicated one day to social action projects in Germany. They joined other young people from about 20 German dioceses during the Days of Encounter, a pre-WYD program, from 8-15 August.
The Days of Encounter provided an opportunity for pilgrims and their hosts to get to know one another and share their faith. The projects included excursions with people with disabilities, organising a soccer tournament with young asylum seekers, gardening for welfare institutions, making wooden toys with children and singing at senior citizens' residences.
EWTN Global Catholic Network provided coverage of World Youth Day, including Benedict XVI's first foreign trip, beginning on 18 August with his arrival in Cologne and the official welcome celebration. The following day there was coverage of the WYD pilgrims' contemplation of the Passion of Jesus Christ through the Way of the Cross, while on Saturday, 20 August, in the city of Marienfeld, the pilgrims joined the Holy Father in celebrating an evening Vigil. On Sunday morning, 21 August, came the closing Mass.
During his homily, Benedict challenged those present at World Youth Day to become a Christian leaven in their societies.