tAccording to an old Italian saying, only cani e americani move in Rome in August – dogs and Americans. The sweltering heat, however, did not deter an estimated 50,000 altar boys and girls, mostly but not exclusively German, from descending on the city this week for a massive rally with Pope Benedict XVI.
tThe gathering was billed as an “International Pilgrimage of Altar Servers,” part of an event organized every five years by a group called Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium.
“You are not only creating a festive environment in the square, but you are also filling my heart with joy,” Benedict told the youthful crowd in German. He went on to briefly explain the history of Saint Tarcisio, who was an altar server himself.
Two things about the event seem worthy of note.
First, for the first time this year, the female altar servers in attendance outnumbered the males. According to organizers, the balance was roughly 60-40 in favor of females. The official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, pointed to the turnout as a symbol of “the massive entry in recent decades of girls and young women into a role once reserved exclusively to males.”