Almost two thousand young people and young adults, all seasoned altar boys from the Archdiocese of Cologne, a bright autumn day in Rome, the start of a week called "Acolyte Pilgrimage" full of encounters and explorations in the Eternal City and in Assisi.
And then this.
responsible for “The Present” in the political editorial team.
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Since Tuesday morning, an excerpt from a video recording of the opening service in the Basilica of St. Paul in front of the walls has been circulating, in which an outrageous event is recorded.
During the sermon of the Cologne Archbishop Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, first a few, then more and more of the altar boys dressed in red and white liturgical robes stand up and turn their backs to the cardinal.
Scenes from a tragedy
The cardinal can be seen briefly in the picture, reacting to what he sees and perhaps also – if the reports are correct – to what he hears.
"Woelki has to go" is said to have been shouted, and boos could also be heard.
The Cologne "Domradio", which put the sequence on its website on Tuesday afternoon, subsequently reported that Woelki had interrupted his prepared sermon with the words that Jesus never turned his back on a person, but always showed people his face openly, the "face of the Father who accepts and loves every human being".
Did Woelki also see the rainbow-colored LGBTQ flags that were waved before the service began?
So not everyone joins in the applause that erupts at his words.
The 150, maybe 200 acolytes who have risen remain standing until the service resumes with the common profession of faith.
If a symbolic act was needed to show powerfully the relationship between the cardinal and the Catholics in the Rhineland, this blank space has been filled.
Other scenes of this tragedy have been playing out in secret for months: an archbishop trying to intimidate the assembled city and county deans by saying that they all owe their position to him alone.
An archbishop, who makes a former abuse expert by his grace his legal counsel in order to defend himself against an (ultimately compliant) Cologne public prosecutor's office of the accusation of a false affidavit.
An archbishop who has to raise several million euros within a few weeks to save his “Cologne University for Catholic Theology”, which he founded three years ago, from collapsing.
An archbishop who makes life hell for disgraced employees with lawyers.
Does the pope have insight?
An archbishop who claims to have forgotten that years ago, and not just in June, his attention was drawn to a priest who was known throughout Germany and who was guilty of sexual violence against those under protection.
An archbishop under whom networks flourished, which in Rome were called "lobby gay".
A Cologne prelate who, years ago, played a key role in the election of the then Berlin Cardinal Woelki by the Cologne Cathedral Chapter in 2014 to succeed Cardinal Joachim Meisner, recently said that he no longer knew how things were with the Cologne Church should continue as long as Woelki clings to his office.
The hope that Pope Francis will finally see the point and accept Woelkis' offer of resignation, formulated under dubious circumstances last February, has now fallen to zero.
Canon law stipulates that the pope must decide on such an offer within three months.
But Francis doesn't give a damn about regulations like these.
If the pope enjoys the freedom of fools, why should his cardinals behave differently?
Only: Nobody in Cologne is laughing anymore.