The Pilgrim Cross and the Salus Popoli Romani icon have been accompanying the WYD for several years. In the months leading up to each WYD, the symbols go on pilgrimage to various places around the world, but especially to the dioceses of the country where WYD will take place.
Millions of hands have already touched these symbols all over the world. And this touch is lived in a special way. It has borne much fruit and has changed hearts in many different contexts, latitudes, and situations.
The Pilgrim Cross was the only symbol of WYD until 2003. This year, it is joined by the Marian icon. The cross is 3.8 meters high and was fabricated for the Holy Year celebrated in Rome in 1983. It was then entrusted to the youth on Palm Sunday of the following year by Pope John Paul II. The goal was to reach the whole world through the hands of young people. Since then, this wooden cross has made a pilgrimage all over the world on its six continents and almost 90 countries.
It has been transported on foot, by boat, and even by rarer means such as sleds, cranes, ox carts, and tractors. It has traveled through the jungles and passed through churches, juvenile detention centers, prisons, schools, universities, hospitals, monuments, and shopping malls. Recently, it also went to a disco. With so much travel there was no shortage of difficulties and obstacles: from airline strikes to transport difficulties, such as not being able to be transported because it couldn’t fit on any of the available planes.
For the millions of people touched by this simple symbol, the cross has been a bearer and sign of hope in particularly sensitive places. In 1985, it was in Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic, at the time when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain, and was there as a sign of communion with the Pope. Shortly after September 11, 2001, it traveled to Ground Zero in New York City, where the terrorist attacks that killed almost 3000 people took place. It also spent time in Rwanda in 2006, after the country had experienced a fratricidal genocide because of a civil war.
CROSS: SIGN OF HOPE AND LIFE
When I was living in the missionary parish community of Kariobangi, a Comboni parish on the outskirts of the capital city of Kenya, I was always very impressed by the number of Christians and non-Christians participating in the Way of the Cross on Good Friday that traveled through the alleys of the social district. It took 4 to 5 hours to go through open-air markets, crowded public transportation stops, and snack bars on the side of the road. In short, a number of very socially complex places and situations. It was here that I experienced concretely and in the flesh what I had learned in my theological studies at college about the theology of the cross!
Someone once wrote that for a true encounter between people and for a true building of fraternity, we need to “meet on the cross!” Next month we will get to know and understand the other symbol of WYD23: the Marian icon Salus Popoli Romani.