That Old Rugged Cross

During Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience today, he recalled the 25th anniversary of the consignment of the World Youth Day cross by Pope John Paul II to the young people of the world.

It was during the Holy Year of Redemption (1983-1984) that Pope John Paul II ordered a simple wooden cross to be erected near the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica. At the close of the Holy Year, he consigned that same cross to the youth of the world, saying: “Take this into the world as a sign of the Lord Jesus’ love for humankind, and tell everyone that only through Christ, who died and rose again, comes salvation and redemption.”

The young people of the San Lorenzo International Youth Centre took that invitation literally, and ever since, the cross has never stopped traveling the world. It, along with the icon of Mary, visits all of the countries where World Youth Day is held, as well as elsewhere, such as the country of Rwanda in the wake of that country’s tragic genocide; and it was also brought to New York City’s “Ground Zero,” where the World Trade Towers fell.

The photo shows the WYD cross being dipped into the ocean off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef near Cairns in September 2007 as it was journeying through that continent prior to arriving in Sydney for WYD 2008.

After today’s general audience, the cross and icon will be available for veneration in Rome before moving on to Poland for a brief pilgrimage and then to Spain, where it will be taken through all the dioceses of the country in preparation for World Youth Day, which is to be held in Madrid in August 2011.

Having now attended three WYD gatherings, I can attest that the presence of youth carrying the WYD cross is a constant with WYD. Given Christ’s own journey with the cross, it’s a most fitting and proper image to be so closely connected with the Church’s largest gathering of young people — and an excellent reminder to all of us to “pick up our cross and follow Christ.”