Pope's Holy Week Youth Day
Holy Week celebrations, starting with the traditional Palm Sunday liturgy and World Youth Day, dominate Pope John Paul II's April calendar.
On April 4, Palm Sunday, for the 19th time in his pontificate, the Holy Father will preside at World Youth Day celebrations, a day he instituted and personally announced on Dec. 20, 1985, at the end of the United Nations-sponsored International Youth Year.
On March 31 of that year, 300,000 young people joined the Pope in St. Peter's Square for the Palm Sunday liturgy, bringing with them the cross he had entrusted to youth at the end of the 1983-84 Holy Year of the Redemption.
March 31 also marked the publication of John Paul's apostolic letter Dilecti Amici (To the Youth of the World on the Occasion of International Youth Year).
The first official World Youth Day was celebrated on Palm Sunday, March 23, 1986. Since then it has been celebrated every year on Palm Sunday on a diocesan level and every two years on an international level in a different country. It is always preceded by an international forum of approximately 300 young people from around the world, chosen as delegates by their country's bishops' conference or by ecclesial movements and associations.
The forum this year takes place in Rocca di Papa, just south of Rome, from March 31-April 4 on the theme “Youth and Universities: Witnessing to Christ in the University World.” Participants will join other Italian youth in St. Peter's Square on Palm Sunday. World Youth Days are organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
Holy Thursday marks the start of a grueling four-day schedule of Holy Week liturgies for John Paul. At 9:30 that morning in St. Peter's Basilica, he will preside at the Chrism Mass, concelebrating with the cardinals, bishops and priests who are in Rome for Holy Week.
Following the renewal of priestly vows, he will bless the sacred oils used for catechumens, the sick and for the sacrament of confirmation.
At 5:30 p.m. in the Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father will preside at the Mass of the Lord's Supper.
Though he has traditionally washed the feet of 12 priests during this Mass, in recent years the Pope has delegated this task to cardinals. A collection is customarily taken up during this Mass and given to the Holy Father, who earmarks it for a specific purpose. Last year it went to the people affected by the war in Iraq.
Three events traditionally mark Good Friday for the Holy Father: hearing confessions in St. Peter's Basilica, presiding at the celebration of the Lord's passion there in the afternoon and leading the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross, in the evening at the Coliseum.
Ever since he began hearing confessions in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday in 1980, John Paul, notwithstanding physical infirmities, has insisted on continuing what is by now an entrenched Holy Week custom.
He normally enters the basilica about noon and hears the confessions of about 10 people chosen from among the Catholics visiting the basilica that morning.
In 1980 the Pope walked into the basilica just after noon and went over to a confessional almost totally unnoticed, as this was surely the very last thing any visitor to St. Peter's expected to see! A year later, pilgrims did expect to see the Pope — as did Vatican security, who set up barriers to ensure privacy for both the Holy Father and those selected to confess.
Many times over the years, in his Holy Thursday letter to priests, John Paul has pointed to the sacrament of penance as an integral part of the ordained priesthood.
He has encouraged priests to rediscover this sacrament and, in turn, to help the people entrusted to their pastoral care to do the same.
Joan Lewis works for Vatican Information Service.
- March 28-April 3, 2004