The Olympic Torch of World Youth Day 2002

Twelve-foot simple wooden cross brings unity and peace wherever it goes

By Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.

New York City - At the heart of the World Youth Day is a very simple, powerful, ancient Christian symbol that is taking Canada by storm: two large planks of wood, known as the World Youth Day Cross that not a few journalists and onlookers have called the "Olympic Torch" of the huge Catholic Festival that will arrive in Canada this July.

Seventeen years ago, at the close of the Holy Year of the Redemption at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II entrusted to the young people of the world this simple, twelve-foot wooden Cross, asking them to carry it across the world as a sign of the love which the Lord Jesus has for humankind and to proclaim to everyone that only in Christ who died and is risen is there salvation and redemption.

Since that day, carried by generous hands and loving hearts, the Cross has made a long, uninterrupted pilgrimage across the continents, to demonstrate, as Pope John Paul II has stated so well, that "the Cross walks with young people and young people walk with the Cross."

Last year in a very moving Palm Sunday papal ceremony in St. Peter's Square, attended by Canadian youth representing 35 dioceses from throughout our country, and before a crowd of nearly 80,000 people, the cross was handed over to us by Italian youth who had hosted the last World Youth Day in August, 2000. Since April 11, 2001, the World Youth Day Cross has literally touched the three oceans that border Canada. It has visited our cities, towns and rural areas, drawing huge throngs of people into the streets for processions, prayers, all-night vigils, tears, moments of reconciliation and peace. Such expressions of popular piety have been absent for far too many years. From main streets and highways to the Vancouver harbour, from ferries to pick-up trucks to dog sleds in the north, to prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, "Pizza Corner" in downtown Halifax, and sites of tragic car accidents on Manitoulin Island, from Peggy's Cove on the Atlantic to the Alaska Highway in the west, the pilgrim Cross has been a witness to the power of reconciliation and peace that World Youth Day can bring to the world. Later this spring, during the final leg of its pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2002, the Cross will be carried to Toronto on foot by relay teams of young people from Montreal, along the St. Lawrence and along Lake Ontario.

It will then spend forty days visiting the parishes and institutions of the Archdiocese of Toronto before becoming a centerpiece of the great events that will take place in Toronto. But in the midst of a carefully orchestrated pilgrimage throughout the 72 dioceses of Canada, the Cross is taking a detour today and tomorrow on a journey that is not normally part of the Youth Day preparations in a given country.

Early this morning, two motor coaches filled with representatives of many Canadian Dioceses, together with representatives of police, ambulance and fire fighters, set out with the Cross in tow to New York City for the next 48 hours. After a vigil mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral in the heart of Manhattan this evening with hundreds of young people from the Archdiocese of New York and the neighboring dioceses, and an early morning mass tomorrow, we will carry the cross on pilgrimage to Ground Zero, to pray for the victims of last year's great tragedy at the World Trade Centre and elsewhere throughout the United States. This visit is to be a sign of hope to the people of America, and the entire world, who struggle to understand the terror, violence and death-dealing forces that humanity experienced on September 11, 2001.

No one has described the pilgrimage of the Cross better than Sebastien Lacroix, the young 21 year-old man from Sherbrooke, Quebec, on the national team of World Youth Day 2002, who has organized the pilgrimage of the World Youth Day Cross throughout our country. He told a spellbound audience last summer: "I am the agent of the cross. I see to its goings and comings, from sea to sea to sea. I make sure that the cross is left alone as little as possible, and that the people of this land open wide the doors of the most distant churches to receive it. This cross accompanies thousands of young people on their journey to Jesus Christ. The cross has stood in vigil throughout entire nights, and in parks close to young people who are wounded. It has stood silently in chapels allowing for quiet contemplation. The cross transforms. The cross heals. The cross touches hearts. Let us allow ourselves to be touched by the cross."

When all the commotion and noise of World Youth Day is over, I am convinced that one of the lasting memories that will remain in our country will be this simple, wooden Cross that has been a huge blessing and a source of consolation, healing, strength and peace to the hundreds of thousands of people who have embraced it, touched it, kissed it, and allowed themselves to be touched by the awesome message and memory of the one who died upon it.

Toronto Sun, February 24, 2002
24. februar 2002