ROME, JUNE 17, 2003 ( Cardinal James Francis Stafford says that World Youth Day 2005 in Germany will offer young people an opportunity to reflect on the future of Europe and its Christian roots.

"I am very grateful to God for the fact that the Pope has chosen Cologne for the next WYD, as a place of strong Christian tradition," the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity said in an interview published at

"Cologne is a very important city for the whole of Europe, especially in this period in which there is an intense debate on its future, on the roots of Christianity in the Old World," he said.

According to the cardinal, the role of Christian young people, as "leaders of the future," is especially significant in this debate.

"In 2005 there will be an opportunity for young people to offer to God their sentiments as young Europeans as regards the future of Europe together with its Christian past," the American cardinal said.

There will be notable differences between the last year's WYD in Toronto, and the one in Cologne -- beginning with the host cities. "Toronto is a new city, a recent, secularized city," he said. "In Cologne, there is a great tradition for Christian pilgrims."

Moreover, the war in Iraq took place after the Toronto meeting, "This is a great challenge for young people. What is the meaning of these wars in their vocation as Christians? And for their vision of the future?" the cardinal asked.

Cologne 2005 will be "for young people a great opportunity to reflect together about the changes in the world oriented to end the violence and wars," he predicted.

The president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, who is responsible for the organization of the World Youth Days, said the technical and spiritual preparations for the August 2005 event have begun. Early estimates say 800,000 youths might attend.