Pilgrimage of the Cross and Icon

By Diocesan Youth Executive Council (2017)

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me!” (Luke 9: 23)

Brief History
It was during the Holy Year of Redemption (1983-1984), Saint John Paul II felt that there should be a Cross – the symbol of our faith – near the main alter at Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican where it will be seen by everyone. A large wooden Cross, 3.8 metres high, was placed there according to the Holy Father’s desire. At the end of the Holy Year, after the Pope had closed the Holy Door, he entrusted that Cross to the youth of the world, represented by the young people from the San Lorenzo Youth Centre in Rome. His words on that occasion were:
“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 proclaim to everyone that it is only in Christ, who died and rose from the dead, that salvation and redemption are to be found” (Rome, 22 April 1984).

Therefore, the youth responded to the Holy Father’s request. They took it to San Lorenzo Youth Centre beside Saint Peter’s Square, and it was to be its home when it was not away on pilgrimage around the world. The first pilgrimage of the Holy Year Cross took place in the same year in July with Munich in Germany being the destination.
In January 1985, a group of German youth took the Cross to Prague, Czechoslovakia in answer to the Holy Father’s request.

With 1985 being an International Youth Year proclaimed by the United Nations, 300 000 young people had a meeting with the Pope in Saint Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday. The Holy Year Cross was present in that meeting. During that year the Holy Year Cross was present in meetings, it was taken on pilgrimages, and it led the Way of the Cross in city streets in various parts of Europe: Italy, France, Luxembourg, Ireland, Scotland, Malta and Germany. In December (1985), Saint Pope John Paul II announced that there will be an annual World Youth Day beginning on the following Palm Sunday. World Youth Day will be held every year at diocesan level from 1986. Since 1987, world gathering of young people have been meeting with the Pope in a different country every two or three years.

In 1986, the Cross was present at the Rome diocesan celebration of the First World Youth Day, held in Saint John Lateran Basilica on Palm Sunday. 1987 was the year of the 2nd World Youth Day, the first to gather young people from the around world in one place and it was held in Buenos Aires in Argentina in April of that year. This was the first time the Cross went to the American continent. The Pope reminded young people of the origin of the Cross: “The great Cross that presides at our gathering today is the one that initiated all the ceremonies during the Holy Year of Redemption and which I gave to a group of young people on Easter Sunday..” Since then it has moved throughout the world touching hearts and inspiring holiness. Africa was not left out.

Some of the countries in Africa that the Cross and Icon visited in 2006 were Senegal, Cameroon, Tanzania, Malawi, Togo, Zambia etcetera. In 2007, the countries it visited were: Botswana, South Africa, our very own Swaziland, Mozambique and Madagascar. Many stories can be told about the journey of the Cross and Icon as they travelled on the back of a truck in along the dusty roads of Africa. Crowds came out to welcome them with song and dance, and it attracted many others from many churches and religion. Moreover, meetings with the Cross and Icon were used to commission young people to become a “non-violent generation”. They led several peace marches.

Some of the names of the Cross:

  • Holy Year Cross
  • Jubilee Cross (commissioned during the Jubilee Year of Redemption)
  • World Youth Day Cross (it is the reason the WYD was initiated and it is form a big part of the WYD)
  • Pilgrim Cross (it is on pilgrimage throughout the world and is used by pilgrims)