Cologne, Aug. 11 ( - World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations opened in Germany on August 11, with individual dioceses in that country holding their own observances in preparation for the worldwide celebration that opens in Cologne on August 16.

Organizers report that 400,000 young people have already registered for the events in Cologne. That advance registration is a record of WYD. Hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from all around the world are converging on German cities for the preliminary events, which were integrated into the structure of WYD celebrations beginning with the Paris observance in 1997. The 5-day diocesan celebrations allow pilgrims to become acquainted with German culture, while giving German hosts a chance to prepare for the main event by welcoming guests from abroad.

For this 20th World Youth Day, the diocese observances will include one day of social action, with the young people engaged in charitable projects in the cities. After celebrating the feast of the Assumption on August 15, WYD participants will make the move from the different dioceses to Cologne, meeting with the larger crowd of pilgrims who will arrive for the opening of the worldwide celebration. To accommodate the crowd of young pilgrims-- which, according to organizers, could exceed 800,000-- volunteer families have opened their homes not only in Cologne but in nearby Bonn and Dusseldorf as well. The official opening ceremonies for the 20th WYD in Cologne will be on August 16. After morning prayer in parishes throughout the host cities, participants will take part in a youth festival. In the afternoon, Mass will be celebrated simultaneously in the three host cities, formally opening the event. The celebrants will be Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne; Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the president of the German bishops' conference; and Msgr. Bode, the director of youth work for the German bishops.