The world prepares for one of the great gatherings of humanity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next week: the twenty-eighth World Youth Day. This gathering is a triumph for the Catholic Church and a major event for young people from around the world. Since 2002, WYD has been held every three years. The event this year has been moved up due to the fact that Rio is hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympic Games in 2016. World Youth Day is expected to be larger than both of those events put together.

The history of WYD is something of a modern miracle itself and continues to underscore the significance of not only the papacy of Pope John Paul II, but also the incredible Christ-like modeling of the man himself. At the end of the year 1983-1984, the Holy Year of the Redemption, Pope John Paul entrusted the Jubilee Cross, a simple wooden cross, to the youth of the world. (The cross had been placed near the papal altar in Saint Peter’s at the Pope’s request.) He asked the youth to take it on pilgrimage around the world.

“My dear young people, at the conclusion of the Holy Year, I entrust to you the sign of this Jubilee Year: the Cross of Christ! Carry it throughout the world as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity, and announce to everyone that only in the death and resurrection of Christ can we find salvation and redemption.” (Rome, 22nd April 1984).

The following year, 1985, was declared by the United Nations as the International Youth Year. Pope John Paul II took the UN idea and ran with it like no other world leader did, or has since. Mass was celebrated again in Saint Peter’s Square with approximately a half-million young people present with the Pope and the Jubilee Cross. 1986 saw the first proclaimed World Youth Day again in Rome. 1987 World Youth Day was launched in Buenos Aires, Argentina and the tradition was firmly established and has been growing stronger every time the youth of the world gather with the Pope. The ongoing pilgrimage of the WYD Cross is truly a source of immense grace. So many people have found consolation and peace for their suffering as they approached the Cross. So many have been touched by the mystery of God revealed in Christ as they came into contact with this Cross. This year WYD is from 23—28 July in Rio. Pope Francis, a native of neighboring Argentina, will be present as the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of Peter, leading the world youth, including fifty young people from the Diocese of La Crosse.

Last September as the current Year of Faith was beginning, each parish and institution of the Diocese received a handmade simple cross. It is a sign, much the same as it is for WYD, of the symbol of our Redemption. Those crosses are lovingly making their way on pilgrimage throughout the homes of our Diocese. This week, during World Youth Day, let us be mindful to pray for our young people and the future of Christ’s Church, which is in their hands.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise You; because by Your most Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world!

Pray with me at Sunday Mass.

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