NEW YORK — The schedule for taking the cross that symbolizes World Youth Day to locations across Canada was interrupted Feb. 24-25 for a pilgrimage to New York's Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, director of the World Youth Day scheduled for July 23-28 in Toronto, said 110 people gathered in Toronto for prayer at 11:30 p.m. Feb. 23, and then made the 12-hour bus trip to participate in the visit of the cross to New York.
Joined by youths and youth workers from the New York area, they came to St. Patrick's Cathedral the evening of Feb. 24 for a Mass that began with the processional hymn, “Lift High the Cross.”
Auxiliary Bishop Anthony G. Meagher of Toronto, who heads the Canadian bishops' committee for World Youth Day and traveled with the group, was celebrant and homilist for the Mass.
He said what happened at the World Trade Center was frightening, but that the cross was a sign that God would conquer the evil seen in that event.
The pilgrims were coming to New York to say that “not us but this cross will be a sign of hope,” the bishop said.
Father Rosica said the delegation included 75 young people from nine countries and 25 Canadian dioceses.
While the Mass reflected the bilingual English-French composition of Canadians, the international character of the World Youth Day was shown through the prayers offered also in Filipino, Italian and Spanish.
Also participating in the pilgrimage, Father Rosica reported, were representatives of the police, fire and emergency medical services who would assist with World Youth Day and who were coming to offer prayers for their counterparts who served and in many cases died at the World Trade Center.
He said the group also included the wife, children, parents and mother-in-law of Kenneth Basnicki, a Ukrainian Catholic who had come to New York from Toronto Sept. 11 on business and was killed at the World Trade Center.
“We have come as pilgrims,” Father Rosica said at the Mass. “We have come to express our solidarity, gathered around the cross.”
The cross, which is 13 feet high and made of wood, was originally given to the youth of the world by Pope John Paul II in 1984, and has come to symbolize World Youth Day events somewhat as the torch symbolizes the Olympics.
Last year on Palm Sunday, the Pope gave the cross to a group of Canadian youth, and it has since been taken to churches and other locations throughout Canada.
Just before coming to New York, it had been in Hamilton, Ontario, and on Feb. 26 was to go to Timmins, Ontario.
For the concluding journey, it is to be taken from Montreal to Toronto on a walking pilgrimage April 30-June 9.
The cross, carried in a case, was brought to New York in a special trailer pulled by a van, and set up at St. Patrick's Cathedral in the chancel near the archbishop's chair.
After the Mass, it was brought down to the congregational level for veneration during a prayer vigil that was part of the preparation for the visit to Ground Zero the next morning.
Father Michael Martine, CYO director for the New York Archdiocese, said 200 young people from the New York area, including some who would be going to the World Youth Day, had come to join the Canadian visitors for the Mass.
Concelebrants for the Mass included priests from the Archdiocese of Newark and the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, as well as Canada and the New York Archdiocese, he said.
Special music, including singing of the World Youth Day 2002 theme song, “Light of the World,” was provided by a youth choir led by the archdiocesan scouting director, Eugene Jaconetti.
Welcoming the visitors, retired Auxiliary Bishop Patrick J. Sheridan of New York called the visit “a wonderful gesture of prayer and solidarity.”
“You have touched us very deeply with this gesture,” he said.
Bishop Sheridan also commented jokingly that he was welcoming the Canadian visitors in spite of the fact that the Canadian hockey team had just beaten the United States that afternoon “fair and square.”
Bishop Meagher responded that he had not planned to mention the game because it might seem like gloating.
After spending the night at the Mount Manresa Jesuit Retreat House on Staten Island, the pilgrims returned to Manhattan for a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Renato R. Martino, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, at Our Saviour Church, and then made the visit to Ground Zero.
Returning immediately to Canada, the visitors were making their New York trip totally as a pilgrimage of prayer — with none of the shopping, Broadway plays or restaurant dining of the typical New York tourist.