At the start of the extraordinary Holy Year of the Redemption 1983-84, Pope John Paul II decided to place a fourmetre high wooden cross in Saint Peter’s Basilica so that everyone could see it. At the end of that commemorative year, the Pope gave the cross to all the youth of the world who were represented by a delegation from the San Lorenzo International Youth Centre. He said: “My dear young people, at the conclusion of the Holy Year, I entrust to you the sign of this Jubilee Year: the Cross of Christ! Carry it throughout the world as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity, and let everyone know that only in the death and resurrection of Christ can we find salvation and redemption”(Rome, 22 April 1984). The young people responded to the Holy Father’s desire.
Since that time, they have taken the Cross on countless pilgrimages and to all the WYDs. The San Lorenzo International Youth Centre is its home when it is not travelling around the world. In 2003, at the end of the Palm Sunday Mass, John Paul II gave young people a copy of the icon Maria Salus Populi Romani (the original is kept in the basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome), so that it could accompany them on their pilgrimages.
This year’s meeting of youth from all over the world is following the custom and is being preceded by the pilgrimage of the Cross and Icon. They started out in Madrid and went forth to inflame hearts and encourage youth to initiate a relationship with Jesus Christ.
One of the first places visited by the Cross in Madrid was the Soto del Real prison. The people detained there were touched by emotion and hope. After going through the dioceses of Getafe and Alcalá de Hernares, the Cross and Icon continued their journey around Spain. Until a few days before WYD, they are travelling around the 69 dioceses, each of which has organised ceremonies and events for the occasion. One very interesting stage of the pilgrimage was the island of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. This archipelago is one of the seventeen autonomous communities of Spain. The third largest volcano in the worldis here. Testimonies were given by some people who were pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square back in 1984 on the day when John Paul II gave the Cross to young people. This was the most emotional moment of the ceremonies that were held on the islands with popular manifestations of joy. One of those witnesses said: “I remember that day as one that made a deep impression on my life. I am happy and proud because the Cross that the Pope gave us is now on my island”.
One of the young participants in La Palma shared his feelings of joy as follows: “We dance with joy to spread the word of God, a word of love and truth in every corner of our society and our island. Today we wait impatiently like children longing to welcome the Cross and Mary our Mother. We have a child’s eagerness to follow the path that leads to the world meeting in Madrid. We desire to have the hearts of children and welcome Jesus into our lives. We want to shout out like children that it is certainly worth everyone’s while to follow Christ”.
The Icon and Cross have also been to Toledo, the “city of three cultures”. For centuries it has been home to Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is on the right bank of the river Tagus, not far from Madrid. It was declared a world heritage site in 1987. A huge crowd of youth filled the steep streets of the city as they accompanied the Cross in procession to the cathedral. The evening continued with a prayer vigil at which a large number of citizens took part, including many families.
“It is very important that the Cross could come to Toledo”, said Paloma, one of the young people who took part. “It was amazing and moving to see the streets of the city filled with so many people”, she said after the procession. Each place visited by the Cross and Icon of Our Lady had a great celebration, a small foretaste of World Youth Day in Madrid.
On the feast of Saint John of Avila, the seminarians in the diocese of Logroño prayed for hours before the Cross for vocations among the pilgrims who will attend WYD 2011. The visits to places of suffering were particularly moving. They went to prisons and hospitals, places where Christ’s passion is particularly felt by people who experience suffering every day. The journey of the Cross through cities and villages in Spain, accompanied by the Icon of Our Lady, proclaims the love of God for each human being. It has not left Spaniards indifferent. The pilgrim Cross is a beacon that lights up the road to Madrid where the youth of the world will come to meet Jesus Christ.