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Airman 1st Class Kenneth Cumbie, of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, takes part in Saturday evening’s vigil service during World Youth Day. The event, held outside Cologne, Germany, drew an estimated 1 million people.

Airman 1st Class Kenneth Cumbie, of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, takes part in Saturday evening’s vigil service during World Youth Day. The event, held outside Cologne, Germany, drew an estimated 1 million people. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

Airman 1st Class Kenneth Cumbie, of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, takes part in Saturday evening’s vigil service during World Youth Day. The event, held outside Cologne, Germany, drew an estimated 1 million people.

Airman 1st Class Kenneth Cumbie, of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, takes part in Saturday evening’s vigil service during World Youth Day. The event, held outside Cologne, Germany, drew an estimated 1 million people. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center nurse Cookie Jennings, left, lights her candle during Saturday evening’s vigil service at World Youth Day.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center nurse Cookie Jennings, left, lights her candle during Saturday evening’s vigil service at World Youth Day. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

A.J. Martinez, a 14-year-old incoming freshman at Ramstein High School, shows his support for Pope Benedict XVI during World Youth Day.

A.J. Martinez, a 14-year-old incoming freshman at Ramstein High School, shows his support for Pope Benedict XVI during World Youth Day. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

Air Force Capt. Gabriel Young hoists one of the 275 people who attended World Youth Day from Ramstein Air Base.

Air Force Capt. Gabriel Young hoists one of the 275 people who attended World Youth Day from Ramstein Air Base. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

COLOGNE, Germany — Like millions of pilgrims before them, they traveled in bands across hundreds of miles with God in their hearts.

Fueled by their faith and feet, these modern-day sojourners, numbering 1 million, converged this weekend on a massive field near Cologne to celebrate Catholicism during World Youth Day.

Among the masses stood hundreds of pilgrims from U.S. military communities throughout Europe who witnessed Pope Benedict XVI in his first foreign trip since being elected in April.

Forty-five of the faithful left Ramstein Air Base’s Northside Chapel at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. They arrived in Cologne around 8 a.m. After a shuttle bus ride and a short hike, the group located their spot on Marienfeld Pilgrim Field between a group of Canadians and Italians around 1 p.m.

“There’s a lot of people,” said Airman 1st Class Kenneth Cumbie, 19, who is stationed at Ramstein. “I’ve never been to an event this big with so many people, but it was touching to see the pope.”

As overcast skies cleared and the sun began to set, Pope Benedict XVI made his way to a hilltop altar in the “Popemobile.”

Hundreds of thousands specks of light flickered across the field as the crowd of worshipers lit candles for Saturday evening’s vigil service.

“I thought it was really cool for 1 million people from all over the world to get together for one night,” said A.J. Martinez, a 14-year-old incoming freshman at Ramstein High School.

During the vigil, Benedict XVI addressed the pilgrims in German — his native tongue — French, Spanish and Italian. The service, filled with song and prayer, was still going strong around 11 p.m.

“It was so nice because I went to sleep to the sound of singing and chanting,” said Cookie Jennings, a nurse at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

The group from Ramstein woke up to foggy skies and dew-covered sleeping bags after spending a night under millions of stars.

Around 10 a.m. Sunday, the Pope began Mass much to the delight of the crowd.

Patrick Sittenauer, 18, said the experience was much more powerful than an ordinary Mass.

“I didn’t expect the pope to have as much presence as he did when he spoke,” said Sittenauer, whose father is in the Air Force. “I hoped to come closer to God, and I did just that.”

World Youth Day did indeed live up to it name. The majority of pilgrims were young people from around the world. Chaperones and older pilgrims were present, but the face of the event was that of youth.

Their behavior and their lack of drinking, swearing and misbehaving gave Jennings faith in the future.

“This is a real uplifting experience because most of the time all you hear are bad things about youth, but this really gives me hope,” she said. “This is an eye-opening experience.”


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