“St. Peter’s square quiet as a mouse”

Ministrants” pilgrimage comes to an end in Rome. Alexander Bothe was there with the young people, speaks of exhaustion, but also of overwhelming joy. Amid all the hubbub, one quiet moment in particular has stuck with him.

Interviewer: The first young people are leaving. How exhausted are you after these days??

Alexander Bothe (pastoral counselor for altar boys): I’m already exhausted, of course, I have to say that honestly. Of course, colleagues who are responsible for the individual diocesan groups are also already feeling a sense of exhaustion. But everyone is incredibly happy. We are of course happy about this week’s experience. We were also moved by the motto "Seek peace and pursue it": it was always a matter of putting peace at the center – and then one’s own exhaustion is somehow also borne by peace.
Interviewer: At 60.000 altar boys sure have a lot going on. Were there any noteworthy mishaps?
Bothe: That is part and parcel of such a major event. There’s always a plan, that’s one thing. The reality is the other and, of course, we in charge look to keep the two as closely aligned as possible.

Of course, we had young people who were not in good health. The heat wave in Germany made for a bit of a workout, but it’s different again in Rome. Of course, it is also an effort when you go on pilgrimage through the city or simply want to visit something. We already have a few young people who actually had to be taken care of – especially on Tuesday during and after the papal audience.

But there are also one or two general health problems that arise with such a large number of participants – not really surprising. So far we are very blessed by the fact that it has not been bad things.

Interviewer: You have developed an app for the pilgrimage to Rome. It should accompany the international altar boys in a playful, informative and spiritual way, help with making contacts and give tips on the spot. How is the app "goRome!" arrived?
Bothe: The young people enjoy this very much, they are very happy about the updates and of course they also see that they gain experience with it. It really worked out very well, we are very happy and look forward to what is to come in the future. We have an update for the app today – then "goRome" becomes "go home". That means we give impulses for their own lives, for the journey back home and for everyday life.
Interviewer: So what were the highlights for you?

Bothe: There are of course many. There was a great event, namely the blind dates. That means that at more than 200 places in Rome, the German altar boys and girls met in three randomly selected groups of fifty. They prayed together, got to know each other, played together and then still made their way to the ice cream parlor. And if you’ve been there in between, that gets you hugely involved. This is an absolute highlight.

The other thing, I really have to say, is that many people were moved by the minute of peace. In the audience with the Pope, there was a moment when the Pope said, "Let’s all be quiet," to actually give space to God’s voice, to simply listen and thus set a sign for this peace in God and peace in the world. And then this whole St. Peter’s Square was suddenly quiet as a mouse. Many young people were very moved by the fact that they were so intensely connected with the Pope and that they could actually share this minute. That was really impressive.

Interviewer: How can the feeling of a community develop with so many children and young people?. Has that succeeded, even with such a crowd?

Bothe: Yes, and that is very noticeable. The great thing, of course, is that everyone is united in this service at Holy Mass. The altar boys and girls have now felt that their service does not end at the door of the church, but goes out into life, into the world – even beyond all countries and language barriers. This community factor, as we would perhaps soberly call it, means so many things: an experience of togetherness, an experience of "we belong together", we share a message and faith – but also that as young people they are on their way together into the future. This is a sign for the church and the society.

Interviewer: Do you ever get any feedback from Rome, from cardinals, the Pope or anyone from the Vatican??
Bothe: Of course. Everything is going on in close coordination with the Vatican. It is also a great gift that the Holy Father has granted us an audience and that we could gather in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis was unbelievably pleased, he has now also mentioned this again in the aftermath. The many young people have already moved the Holy Father very much.

The interview was conducted by Heike Sicconi.

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