November 20th is the feast of St. Korbinian, a Frankish missionary to southern Germany (specifically Bavaria) in the early 8th century. He is the patron of our diocese of Munich-Freising, and was its first bishop. Last weekend, I joined thousands of Bavarian young people in a pilgrimage to the cathedral in Freising, where Korbinian’s relics are housed. Jugendkorbinian, or “Korbi” as it’s known to the youth, is a long-standing tradition around here; this is attested to by the many smaller traditions associated with the annual pilgrimage, such as the “Never-empty-Korbi-Cup”, a tin-looking mug that you buy once and fill with all the tea you can drink for free every year you come back.
So, you might be wondering where the bear comes in. Once when St. Korbinian was making his way back to Rome to visit the Pope, a bear came up and ate his horse. Korbinian simply told the bear that now it had to carry his things to Rome, and it obeyed. (If you’ve ever wondered about the bear on Pope Benedict’s papal insignia, that’s the one.) The current Pope was also ordained a priest in the cathedral of Freising, along with his brother Georg, and became a successor of St. Korbinian when he was made archbishop of Munich-Freising.
The theme of this year’s “Korbi” pilgrimage was the very Bavarian and very untranslatable expression “Guad, dass di’ gibt!” This pretty much means, “Good, that you exist.” As part of my work here at the student residency, I prepared stations for us to pray as we walked the five kilometers from the neighboring town’s train station to the cathedral. In keeping with the theme, I selected bible verses that emphasized human dignity and individual worth, beginning with Genesis 1:26-31, the creation of man in the image of God. Next came Psalm 139:1-18 (God, you have searched me and know me…You knit me in my mother’s womb…). Every person is loved and wanted by God. Next was Luke 15:11-24, the Prodigal Son; God loves us even though we don’t deserve it. Our worth is based on the fact that we are created in God’s image, independent of our deeds. Finally, we ended with John 14:1-3 (In my father’s house there are many rooms…I go to prepare a place for you) and Luke 23:39-43, the repentant thief on the cross. All of humanity has the same destiny: heaven, and we have the responsibility of helping others fulfill this destiny, as well as doing so ourselves. (To read the full bible texts and meditations, see my blog “Pilgrimage Stations”.)
Mass on Sunday morning (we started out on a Saturday) was quite an event. Our group was literally camped on a foam mat a few feet behind the altar where the cardinal was celebrating. I could have touched the concelebrating priests’ robes, had I wanted to. The Gospel was the one where the master gives his servants talents (a form of money) and expects them to invest it while he is away. This message didn’t particularly speak to me at Mass, but it came back to me later in the day.
After Mass there were many, many different workshop we could participate in and booths we could visit. We decided to see a film called Soul Boy, about a boy (Abila) living in Kibera, one of the biggest slums in Kenya. This film, and the dialogue we had afterwards, ended up being the thing that inspired me most about the weekend. Unlike what you might expect, the film was not in the least depressing. Abila’s father loses his soul to a witch-doctor woman, and the boy has to get it back by performing seven tasks, including standing in another’s shoes and representing him in public, helping a sinner without judging him, paying another’s debts without stealing, encountering a new world and realizing how it is different from his own, using his reason to save a life and facing the snake that he fears (a train). What I liked about this movie was that it was a production made with the people of Kibera, not about them. They wrote the story, and they were the actors. The slums were also not directly the focus of the story—they were simply the background in which the characters lived their lives. The movie also sent the positive image of a young person making his world better by making himself a better person and gaining confidence in his abilities and gifts. Such a film can help people living in places like Kibera gain a sense of self-worth. It was also inspiring for me, though, to see how art and creativity really could do something good, even in Africa, where we normally just think of sending food and medicine. Here is the theme of the talents again! Each of us has gifts, and God has a plan for these gifts; we just have to dare to use them, a challenge that is currently shaping my volunteer experience. Guad, dass' uns alle gibt!