Aug. 16 ( - The 20th celebration of World Youth Day (WYD) should demonstrate that faith has a role to play in modern European society, Cardinal Joachim Meisner told a news conference in Cologne on August 16.

Speaking at the same news conference, on the opening day of WYD, Cardinal Karl Lehmann said that the witness of the Catholic Church must be "public, open, and official."

"At last the day has arrived!" said Cardinal Meisner as he welcomed the official WYD opening. He thanked the thousands of volunteers who have helped in preparation for the events, and the local and national government officials who have given their cooperation.

Cardinal Meisner said that the formal opening ceremonies on Tuesday evening could be "the first chapter" in the realization of a vision that Pope John Paul II had for the Church in Germany. After the disasters of the 20th century, the late Pontiff believed that Germany could give birth to a new Christian impulse for Europe in the early 21st century, the cardinal said. He added that the hundreds of thousands of young people gathering in Cologne this week will be determined to fulfill the ambition of their beloved Pope John Paul.

On opening day of the celebration, there were 405,000 young people registered for WYD events: a record number. There are 9,805 priests participating, as opposed to the 5,000 expected by organizers. At least 750 bishops will be on hand, including 60 cardinals. And 7,720 journalists have been accredited for the events.

"The figures are impressive, particularly for those who have been through several WYDs," said Cardinal Lehmann. He recalled the January 1995 celebration that brough over 4 million people to Manila for the closing ceremonies. While acknowledging that Pope John Paul II has been the dominant figure in every previous World Youth Day, he observed that Benedict XVI is also very popular, particularly in his native Germany. The Pope's books are on the best-seller list, he said, and one popular magazine recently carried the headline: "Benedict XVI, superstar."

Cardinal Meisner told reporters that the purpose of WYD is to "give young people a taste for God." Rejecting the notion that the Church exists solely for the purpose of providing moral laws, the cardinal said that "morality is the reverse side of the medal of faith." Morality and faith go together, he said; in fact they are "two sides of the same coin." But faith precedes morality, and the goal of WYD is to revive the sense of faith, he said.