Page 1, 7th September 1956

7th September 1956
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Locations: Cologne, New York


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By DOUGLAS HY DE HE 77th German Catholic Congress came to a spectacularly triumphant conclusion last week week end with crowds of up to 800,000 present at the colourful closing ceremonies.

More than three quarters of a million Catholics from all parts of Germany, including some 28,000 from the Communist zone. lined the banks of the Rhine on Saturday night as the Blessed Sacrament was brought in a procession of ships down the river.

At a Pontifical High Mass next, half a million were present in a great stadium on the outskirts of the city. And a few hours later that same day more than three quarters of a million attended the closing ceremony.

But it is not just for its giant crowds that the 77th congress will be remembered. It will be remembered for its mood of confidence and of great devotion.

The crowds were huge and for that reason alone they would have been impressive. But they were serious crowds,. mindful of the purpose for which they had gathered in the ancient city.

This was manifest when day after day every one of the many churches in Cologne was packed to the doors for Mass.

And the great Gothic cathedral, which was crowded at midnight Mass on Saturday, filled over and over again throughout Sunday morning as Mass followed Mass.

The congress was opened on August 29 by Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, with an address to 50,000 delegates and visitors. Cardinal Piazza. there as the Pope's personal representative, brought the blessing of the Holy Father. Some 70 Cardinals, Archbishops. and Bishops were present at that first ceremony.

So, too, were Chancellor Adenauer, seven Federal Ministers, and the Premiers of four German States.


On that day the great cathedral was solemnly re-opened after the repair of the bomb damage which for years had closed some of its parts, with a Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrated by Cardinal Piazza. Present again was Dr. Adenauer. So, too, was President Theodor Heuss, a Protestant.

The re-opening of the cathedral was a joyous affair, reflecting the prevailing mood of the congress, which was one of confidence, of growing strength and influence, of rebuilding and rebirth.

Throughout the week dozens of different conferences were taking place all over the city, for the congress, despite the huge public demonstrations. is first and foremost the occasion for much solid work as each Catholic association and fraternity meets in annual conference.

The congress theme was "The Church, Sign of God among the People." and all the discussions of the week were keyed to this.

The second great public event was the procession of boats down the River Rhine on Saturday night. By this time the city was crammed to overflowing. Thousands of Catholics from the Communist zone had conic, in small parties, each with a priest.


The Communist authorities had ruled that only those who were officially approved by their parish priests should be allowed to come, and this suited all concerned. For by this means it was possible for the priests themselves to ensure that there were no provocateurs planted among those who came.

Motor coaches, carsland bicycles brought the visitors from every part of Germany, crowding still further the roads which were already crammed with people making their way to the cathedral and the river banks.

The main station. which is adjacent to the cathedral, was jammed with people too as special trains poured in all day.

By the time the procession of boats carrying the Blessed Sacrament set out on its long journey, following the river all through the city, it was known that these were the biggest crowds ever to assemble for a Katholikentag.

Time after time the Blessed Sacrament was raised in Benediction above the kneeling thousands.

SHIP ALTAR Then, when the boats reached the Mulheim Bridge. the Blessed Sacrament was carried in procession the short distance by road to the Cathedral Square, accompanied by members of Catholic Action organisations, scouts, girl guides, and others.

Police cleared a way for the procession through a solid mass of humanity. -Then the Blessed Sacrament was carried to a speciallyconstructed altar set up in the Cathedral Square.

The altar was modern in its design, constructed of tubular steel

and silk in the Papal colours. In shape it was suggestive of a ship, the Monstrance being carried on to film camera floodlights shone down upon it. From below, the great searchlights which penetrated to the topmost turrets of the cathedral further illuminated the scene.

Once again Benediction was given and the hymns which preceded and followed it were sung not only by the thousands who had waited for hours in the square but were taken up by still more thousands crowding faraway streets.

The altar was clearly intended to represent a ship. but its design was also ideally suited to the needs of the television and cinema technicians who were providing a still greater "congregation." In this it seemed to me to symbolise the way in which German Catholicism is today forceful, impressive, solid as one would expect it to be, but also right up to the minute in its determination to use and " baptise" every legitimate means provided by the modern world to take the Church, Sign of God on earth, among the people. All night long the people filled the cathedral. Others camped for a few short hours on sites on the river banks. some set up small folding stools and sat wherever they could find a space.

But behind the scenes the local committee had worked miracles in providing accommodation in hotels, private homes, schools and other buildings for the tens of thousands who had c o ni e " officially."


Two hours before the Pontifical High Mass in the Stadion-Nordfelt!, on the city's outskirts (in the great Green Belt which Konrad Adenauer preserved for thc city years ago, before Hitler seized power), scores of thousands were already taking their places.

By 10 o'clock, when Archbishop Muench, Papal Nuncio, began the Mass, half a million people were present. They had already spent hours singing and listening to hymns accompanied by bands and

choirs. And they had given a rousing welcome to the famous Abbe Pierre, who spoke to them briefly. 'I he sermon was preached by Cardinal Frings. With his white hair flowing in the wind, he told those who had come from the Free West and from the Communist East that whoever betrays the Church betrays God. Always, in all circumstances, it is necessary to maintain contact with the Church.

Aud, he reminded them too that the Church in divided Germany, a Germany which longs for unity, is a unifying force, cutting across the barriers which today divide it in two.

Then more than 100 priests took Holy Communion to the people, corning back over and over again for more Sacred Hosts.


The Nordfeld Stadium had appeared to be crowded in the morning. yet in the afternoon another 300.000 packed themselves into it, bringing the total present to some 800,000.

Three Cardinals and more than 60 Archbishops and Bishops were on the platform, above which Lowered three high cranes (symbolising re-huilding) from which hung an enormous gold painted metal crown of thorns.

The route to the platform was lined by Knights of Malta, Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and others in a great variety of picturesque uniforms.

Beside the steps leading up to it were miners in their traditional uniforms, too, with high black hilts topped with ostrich feathers in he same colour. Each man held a lighted miner's lamp. The longing for a united Germany was stressed by successive speakers, Mayors and Federal Ministers. Then came Chancellor Adenauer himself, 80 years old but still with a clear, fresh voice, a firm step, and a calm, almost imperturbable face.

His speech was moderate, statesmanlike in its references to his divided country. There could be no personal freedom, he told his audience, where there was no religious freedom.

He ended his speech on a deeply spiritual note. As he stepped down from the tribune, with the crowd giving him a warm ovation, he replied with one of his rare but almost schoolboyish smiles and a wave of the hand.


The second part of the afternoon's demonstration took on a symbolic character, with groups of workers of a wide variety of trades, each with its own Catholic guild (and its own traditional uniform too) marching on to the platform.

The thoughts of the crowd were turned, in one of the closing speeches, to the mission areas and the hearers were reminded that it is nut sufficient to build a strong Catholic community at home and that unless Christ's command is obeyed and the Gospel is taken to the four corners of the earth, all they build up now may yet be threatened and even destroyed.

Parties of students from every mission land, in national costumes and carrying the flags of their countries, passed across the Platform.

Then Cardinal Frings gave the closing blessing.

So, with its eyes turned outwards to the wider issues and opportunities, the 77th Katholikentag came to an end. Fr. Ilenly Byrne, 1).C.L., a member of the Maynooth Mission to China-the Columban Fathers -has been appointed titular Bishop of Lamia and Prelate of the new prelature nullius of Iba in the Philippine Islands.

The Bishop-elect was born 43 years ago in Edenderry, Co. Offaly, and was ordained in 1937. Between 1942 and 1951 he was a professor at Si. Columban's Seminary, Silver Creek, New York.

Since that time he has been Superior of the Cohunban Fathers on the Island of Mindanao.

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