.- The pilgrim World Youth Day cross--first commissioned in 1984 by John Paul II--began its journey from Rome to Sydney Australia yesterday, where it will arrive this summer just in time for the 22nd World Youth Day celebration.
Following a solemn Palm Sunday liturgy in St. Peter’s Square, presided at by Pope Benedict XVI, the cross changed hands from a group of German youth to pilgrims from Australia. Last year’s World Youth Day was celebrated in Cologne, Germany.
Following his weekly Angelus prayer, Pope Benedict reminded a crowd of thousands of the spiritual and historical significance of the globe-trotting cross.
"This”, he said, “is the cross that the beloved John Paul II entrusted to young people in 1984 that they might carry it around the world as a sign of Christ's love for humanity," together with another sign of WYD, an icon of the Virgin Mary.”
Benedict said that "This handing over of the cross has become a tradition, ... a highly symbolic tradition to be practiced with great faith, and the commitment to follow a journey of conversion in the footsteps of Jesus.”
"This faith is taught us by Mary Most Holy,” he went on, “who was the first 'to believe' and carried her own cross together with the Son, later tasting with Him the joy of the resurrection.”
He told the crowd that “For this reason the young people's cross is accompanied by an icon of the Virgin, representing the image of Mary 'Salus Populi Romani' which is venerated in the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major, the oldest basilica dedicated to Mary in the West."
On its way to Sydney, the cross and the Marian image will travel through various African countries "in order to express the closeness of Christ and His Mother to the people of that continent, tried by so much suffering."
It will arrive in Oceania in February 2007, and from there, travel through various Australian diocese before reaching Sydney in July of 2008.