As I write, Pope Francis has just entered St. Peter’s Square on what has been probably the hottest day of the year – we have been in the high 90s (38 celsius) and tomorrow are supposed to reach 100 – to say vespers with and address some 70,000 young altar servers from 18 countries and islands. This is the 12th annual event and the young men and women traditionally come to Rome for several days, including time with the Holy Father.

Vespers start at 6:30 and after that Pope Francis, on the final day of his “working vacation,” will address the young people.

I hope and pray there will be enough water to go around. I know that, in the past on similar hot days, the Vatican has made sure there are hundreds, if not thousands of bottles of water ready for the pilgrims.

The young altar servers have been in Rome for several days and each group, be it a parish or a diocese, distinguishes itself by wearing identifying neck scarves, hats or shirts (or all three). You’d have to have stayed at home for four days note to note the huge crowds of young people!

They hail from Italy, Belgium, Croatia, Luxembourg, Austria, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Serbia. Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Hungary, the United States and from several Caribbean islands. The largest group – at least 50,000 – comes from Germany.

The following is a piece from Vatican media – it speaks of the goRome! App, something you might want to try!

More than 70,000 altar servers from 18 different countries, and many more nationalities, begin the 12th International Pilgrimage for Altar Boys and Girls under the motto, “Seek Peace and Pursue it!” (Psalm 34:15).

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp (vaticanmedia)

“Seek Peace and Pursue it!” is the motto for the 12th International Pilgrimage of Altar Boys and Girls which began in Rome on Monday and ends on Saturday. More than 70,000 altar servers between the ages of 13 and 23 from 18 countries, and many more nationalities, are participating in this year’s pilgrimage.

Altar servers – missionaries of peace

The International Pilgrimage of Altar Boys and Girls is organized by Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium (CIM), an international organization for the pastoral care of altar servers. Founded in 1960, the organization, then and now, seeks to foster peace beyond borders in order to create a world at peace. Dr Klára Csiszár, Vice President of CIM, says that CIM fosters a sense that altar servers are missionaries who “help to carry the world-changing power of God’s love from the altar into the world”.

Bringing altar servers together from many nations, and even more nationalities, helps deepen religious identity, strengthen communion, and “shows the young people the worldwide dimension of their ministry”, says Bishop Stefan Oster, SDB, President of the Commission for Youth Ministry of the German Bishops’ Conference.

Blind date scheduled

Pilgrims will be identifiable by a scarf personalized according to diocese and country. In addition to various spiritual and liturgical experiences, some pilgrims will go on a blind date, meeting others at random to pray and play together. The highlight of the event is on Tuesday evening when the pilgrims will participate in an Extraordinary Audience with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.

goRome! App

Pilgrims can download the goRome! App where they can find a game with St Tarcisius, practical information for getting around Rome, prayers, event locations, handy words in Italian, emergency information — and even locations to the nearest water fountain and gelateria. The goHome! Section will then accompany the altar servers home after the pilgrimage as they reenter their normal lives after such a strong faith experience.

Personal testimony

One of the pilgrims is Jonas Ferstl, an 18-year-old from Germany, who became an altar server after making his First Communion because he wanted to continue connecting with the Faith. He describes serving at the altar as a wonderful experience and that the service he performs in Church should also be identifiable elsewhere. With the recent death of his grandfather, he has felt the importance of his faith. It is that faith, he says, that assures him that his grandfather is in a better place.

(The papal homily and his address to young people will soon be posted in summary form on in both Italian and English)


Pope Francis has added a few activities to his August agenda, resuming some public meetings after his July travels and working vacation. He met today with a huge group of altar servers in St. Peter’s Square and will resume the weekly general audience tomorrow, so stay tuned for that!


I went to St. Peter’s Basilica this morning, expecting to attend the 10am Mass at the altar of St. Joseph but there was already a very large group occupying almost every seat and, as they prayed, I could understand that we were nearing communion time, thus Mass was well underway. I heard the celebrant, a cardinal, speak in German so I knew I was among one of the groups of the estimated 9,000 altar servers from around the world, the largest contingent expected to be German.

The altar servers are in Rome from countries around the world, and participating in the Ninth International Pilgrimage of Acolytes and Altar Servers. The highlight of their trip was the encounter with Pope Francis in early evening in St. Peter’s Square. There were musical tributes and a speech by Bishop Német, president of “Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium,” to which the Pope reponded in German, a language he is said to know but rarely uses. (photo


The International Pilgrimage of Altar Servers, which takes place every five years, is organized by the group Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium, a group that includes representatives from countries throughout Europe, including Germany, Italy, and France, as well as smaller countries such as Croatia, Luxembourg, Serbia, and Slovakia. The international pilgrimage allows altar servers to take part in a unique experience for their service, and helps them to discover the diversity of the universal Church.

The Pope reflected on the theme of this year’s pilgrimage, “Here I am: Send me!” He began by thanking the young people “for coming in such great numbers; you have withstood the heat of the sun in Rome in August.”

Francis stated, “It is important to realize that being close to Jesus and knowing him in the Eucharist through your service at the altar, enables you to open yourselves to others, to journey together, to set demanding goals and to find the strength to achieve them. It is a source of real joy to recognize that we are small and weak, all the while knowing that, with Jesus’ help, we can be strengthened and take up the challenge of life’s great journey in his company.”

“In the Eucharist and in the other sacraments,” said the Holy Father, “You experience the intimate closeness of Jesus, the sweetness and power of his presence. You do not encounter Jesus placed on an inaccessibly high throne, but in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. His word does not shake the doorposts, but rather caresses the strings of the heart. … It is always God who takes the lead, because it is he who created you and willed you into being. It is he who, in your baptism, has made you into a new creation; he is always patiently waiting for your response to his initiative, offering forgiveness to whoever asks him in humility.”

Francis exclaimed, “If we do not resist him, Jesus will touch our lips with the flame of his merciful love, as he did to the prophet Isaiah. This will make us worthy to receive him and to bring him to our brothers and sisters. Like Isaiah, we too are invited to not remain closed in on ourselves, protecting our faith in an underground bunker to which we flee in difficult moments. Rather, we are called to share the joy of knowing we are chosen and saved by God’s mercy, the joy of being witnesses to the fact that faith gives new direction to our steps, that it makes us free and strong so as to be ready and able for mission.”

“Dear altar boys and altar girls, the closer you are to the altar, the more you will remember to speak with Jesus in daily prayer; the more you will be nourished by the Word and the Body of the Lord, the better able you will be to go out to others, bringing them the gift that you have received, giving in turn with enthusiasm the joy you have received.  Thank you for serving at the Lord’s altar …. Thank you also for having begun to respond to the Lord, like the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me.”