What Is the World Youth Day Cross?

A Brief History of the "Pilgrim Cross"

Rome, (Zenit.org) Ann Schneible | 1811 hits

"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 announce to everyone that only in the death and resurrection of Christ can we find salvation and redemption."

On April 22, 1984, Blessed John Paul II spoke these words to the youth of the world as he entrusted to them the Cross of the Holy Year of Redemption – or, as it is more commonly known, the World Youth Day Cross.

Not long after Pope Benedict XVI announced that World Youth Day (WYD) 2013 would take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this Cross began its journey throughout the country. Concluding its "pilgrimage" in Rio, it will be a central feature in many of the WYD events. At the end of next week, Pope Francis will announce the location of the next WYD, at which point the "pilgrim" Cross will begin its journey throughout that country in the months leading up to its own WYD.

Origins of the WYD Cross

Throughout the Holy Year of Redemption (1983-1984), a large wooden cross was placed by the main altar within Saint Peter's Basilica. When this Holy Year came to a close, Blessed John Paul II entrusted it to the young people of the world, represented at that time by volunteers of the Centro San Lorenzo International Youth Centre (CSL) in Rome. To this day, the CSL, located just a few meters from the Vatican, remains the official home of the WYD Cross.

Soon after the conclusion of the Holy Year, the Cross began its journey which, over the years, would take it to Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Luxembourg, Ireland, Scotland, Malta, the United States, the Netherlands, Korea, Poland, Switzerland and Australia. It also became a central feature of WYD, travelling to Buenos Aires (1987), Santiago de Compostela (1989), Czestochowa (1991), Denver (1993) and Manila (1995). 

Over the years, the Cross fell into disrepair and was replaced by one of several official copies in 1996. This Cross would participate in the WYDs of Paris (1997), Rome (2000), Toronto (2002), Cologne (2005), Sydney (2008), and Madrid (2011). In addition to WYD, the Cross travelled throughout Africa in 2006, and Oceania in 2007.

As of 2003, the WYD Cross has always travelled with the icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani.

What remains of the original WYD Cross – the horizontal beam and plaque – still stands in the CSL. This Cross has been taken on various missions throughout Rome and Italy, such as one to the Italian city of Aquila in 2009 following the region's deadly earthquake, as well as to various prisons in and around Rome. It is also frequently brought into Saint Peter's Square where it serves as a focal point for prayer, evangelization, and discussion about the Catholic faith.

Over the years, the WYD Cross has been venerated by thousands of people throughout the world, whether it is on pilgrimage serving as a testament of faith, or being brought to laces of suffering to serve as a sign of hope and redemption.

In the words of Pope Benedict to the youth of the world on the 25th anniversary of the WYD Cross, 2009: "Dear friends, once again I entrust this Cross to you! Continue to carry it to every corner of the earth, so that the generations to come may discover the Mercy of God and revive in their hearts hope in the Crucified and Risen Christ!"