04/04/2004, 00.00
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Pope: "Young people, do not be afraid to proclaim the Gospel of the Cross!"

Vatican City (AsiaNews) At 10.00 a.m. this morning in St. Peter's Square representatives from youth across the globe, in addition to cardinals, bishops and priest, gathered together in front of Pope John Paul II while waving palm and olive tree branches in the air.

The blessing of the palm and olive branches (from Puglia, Italy) kicked off Holy Week celebrations, the seven days that commemorate Christ's passion, death and resurrection. The Palm Sunday celebration also coincides with the 19th World Youth Day (WYD) whose theme this years is "We wish to see Jesus". 

Every 3rd year WYD  changes cities. In 2002 Toronto (Canada) was the city chose to host the event. Next year it will be in Cologne (Germany). The WYD tradition has been running for 20 years now, since the day in which the pope gave youth a wooden cross blessed during the Jubilee of the Redemption (1983). 

Since then the Cross has been passed on from the youth of one country to another, as a sign of brotherhood and missionl. For WYD this year 30,000 gathered in St. Peter's Square, preceded by an Apr. 1. audience with youth from Rome.

During his speech the pope urged young people to make "radical choices" and a "radical giving to Him".  He concluded with a prayer: "Oh beloved Jesus, oh Jesus whom we seek, show us your face of light and forgiveness! Watch over us, renew us and send us (on our mission)! So many young people are waiting for You and, if they do not see You, they will not be able to live out their vocations. They will not be able to live a life for You and with You, to give new life to the world under your watch, as you turn your gaze to the Father and, at the same time, to our poor humanity."

During today's address John Paul II asked youth to "go against the grain" and not to fill themselves with "wealth" and "comforts", but to "proclaim on all occasions the Gospel (message) of the Cross". Young people responded with the same affection they've always shown by chanting in unison: "John Paul! John Paul!" and with lengthy clapping of hands as they interrupted the pope's speech.

At the end words of welcome were aired from Berlin, where youth and Bishop Franz-Josef Hermann Bode invited young people from all over the world to come to Cologne for the 20th WYD. John Paul II then thanked all the youth who had come to Rome and said to them: "You're are welcome at the pope's house!"

Below is the text from John Paul II's homily (translation by AsiaNews):

 "Blessed is he, the King, who comes in the name of the Lord (Luke 19,38).

With these words the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus on entering the holy city, hailing Him as the King of Israel. Yet just a few days later the same crowd rejected him, screaming hostilely: "Crucify him! Crucify him! (Luke  23,21).

The Palm Sunday liturgy allows us experience these two moments of Christ's last week on earth, as we are immersed in that unstable throng which in only a few days changed from expressing their joyous enthusiasm for Jesus to crying for His death.

In the atmosphere of joy –veiled in sadness –that characterizes Palm Sunday we celebrate the 19th World Youth Day. This year's theme is "We wish to see Jesus" (John 12,21), the request "some Greeks" made to the Apostles who had come to Jerusalem for the Pascal feast.   

Jesus proclaimed before the crowd that had gathered to listen to him: " I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John, 12,32)."  Hence this is His answer: all those seeking the Son of man will see him and at Easter time as the true Lamb sacrificed to save the world.

Jesus died for each one of us on the Cross. The Cross is, therefore, the greatest and most eloquent symbol of his merciful love, the unique symbol of salvation for all generations and all humanity.  

Nearly 20 years have passed since the Holy Year of the Redemption when I gave the great Jubilee Cross to youth. On that day I urged them to be faith disciples of Christ, the crucified King, who "we see as the one who brings man freedom…, frees man from what curtails, diminishes and as it were breaks off his freedom at its root, in man's soul, his heart and his conscience! (Redemptor hominis, 12).

Since then the Cross continues to be passed across numerous countries of the world in preparation for World Youth Day. The Cross has traveled across the continents, as a torch passed from hand to hand and brought to various countries. It has become a luminous sign of faith inspiring young generations of the Third Millennium.

Dear young people, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the start of this extraordinary spiritual adventure, allow yourselves to be renewed by accepting the very same Cross I entrusted to youth back then, saying: "I trust in you, oh Cross of Christ!"  

"Carry it around the world as a sign of the Lord Jesus' love for humanity, proclaiming to one and all that salvation and redemption is found only in Christ who died and resurrected." (Teachings, VII, 1 [1984], 1105)

Certainly the message the Cross communicates is not an easy one to understand in our day and age, a time in which material wealth and comforts are proposed and sought after as primary values. But you, my dear young people, do not be afraid to proclaim the Gospel (message) of the Cross on all occasions. Do not be afraid to go against the grain!

 "Jesus Christ…humbled himself by expressing his obedience until his death … on the cross. Therefore God has exalted Him (Phil. 2, 2,6.8-9). The wonderful hymn found in St. Paul's letter to the Philippians reminds us the Cross has two inspirable aspects: the Cross is at the same tome sorrowful and glorious. The suffering and humiliation associated with Jesus' death are intimately tied to the exaltation and glory of His resurrection.   

My dear young brothers and sisters, may you know all the more this consoling truth. Christ's passion and resurrection lay at the center our faith and they sustain us during our inevitable daily trials.

May Mary, Most Sorrowful Virgin and silent witness to the joy of His resurrection, help us to follow Christ and discover the full meaning of life in the mystery of the Cross.
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