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Commentary: World Youth Day Cross Celebrations Profoundly Moving, even Unprecedented

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When Pope John Paul II entrusted Canadian youth with the World Youth Day cross on Passion Sunday, the event in St. Peter’s Square was attended by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Hilary Weston, and her husband Galen, as well as World Youth Day staff and volunteers as well as journalists from Canada. The event marked the conclusion of three days of profoundly moving celebrations which were in some ways even unprecedented.

On Thursday, April 5, the Canadian delegation was formally welcomed by representatives of the Italian Bishops’ Conference and 50,000 young people at a meeting in St. Peter's Square with the Holy Father to recall the World Youth Day 2000 celebrations that had been held in Rome this past August. At the conclusion of the Thursday gathering, the Holy Father invited several young Canadians to meet with him.

On Saturday, April 7, the Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, the Pope's Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, and the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, led a procession of thousands of young people through the streets of downtown Rome to St. Peter's Square as young Italians carried the World Youth Day cross for a final time. The Canadian delegation, with flags held high, was given a place of honour in the procession with the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario walking in the midst of the palm-waving young people.

On Passion Sunday, in an unprecedented move at St. Peter’s, each member of the Canadian delegation was asked to play a visible role in the Mass. Young Canadians carried palms in the procession that led the Holy Father through St. Peter's Square. A young man from the Diocese of St. Hyacinthe proclaimed the first reading, and a young woman from the Archdiocese of Vancouver the second reading. Five young Canadians carried the offertory gifts to the Pope, and 10 received communion from him. At the conclusion of the Mass, in a profoundly symbolic gesture, 40 young Italians carried the World Youth Day cross to the Holy Father and then passed it over 40 Canadians, led by Cardinal Ambrozic and the Chairman of the Canadian bishops’ World Youth Day Committee, Bishop Anthony Meagher.

Another touching moment was when Canadian World Youth Day National Director Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, exchanged the World Youth Day 2002 flag with Msgr. Domenico Sigalini, National Coordinator of the Italian World Youth Day 2000. As the Canadians raised high the cross to the applause of the crowds, Inuit youth began singing, dancing and drumming to the thunderous applause of the crowd in the square. The event was televized throughout the world.

At the conclusion of the Mass, in a surprise move, the Holy Father requested that the members of the delegation from Canada come up to meet him individually. The Pope expressed deep gratitude to the young Canadians, and particularly to the Native youth for taking part in the ceremony.

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Last Updated on Thursday, May 25 2006  
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On January 13th 2010, Most Reverend Vincent Nguyen became Canada’s first Catholic Bishop of East Asian descent. He is the great-grandson of a Vietnamese Martyr.