When John Paul II started World Youth Day, it had two components. We are most familiar with the week long festivities at a different country every two or three years, with millions of young people gathering from throughout the world. But there is another World Youth Day that is truly a day. Palm Sunday each year is considered World Youth Day and an opportunity for the Holy Father to address the youth of the world in a particular way.
Yesterday was the first World Youth Day for Pope Francis, and here is what he had to say:
Today in this Square, there are many young people: for twenty-eight years Palm Sunday has been World Youth Day! This is our third word: youth! Dear young people, I saw you in the procession as you were coming in; I think of you celebrating around Jesus, waving your olive branches. I think of you crying out his name and expressing your joy at being with him!
You have an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always: a young heart, even at the age of seventy or eighty. Dear young people! With Christ, the heart never grows old! Yet all of us, all of you know very well that the King whom we follow and who accompanies us is very special: he is a King who loves even to the Cross and who teaches us to serve and to love. And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves, in giving ourselves, in emerging from ourselves that we have true joy and that, with his love, God conquered evil.
You carry the pilgrim Cross through all the Continents, along the highways of the world! You carry it in response to Jesus’ call: “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), which is the theme of World Youth Day this year. You carry it so as to tell everyone that on the Cross Jesus knocked down the wall of enmity that divides people and nations, and he brought reconciliation and peace.
Dear friends, I too am setting out on a journey with you, starting today, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of the Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world.
Young people must say to the world: to follow Christ is good; to go with Christ is good; the message of Christ is good; emerging from ourselves, to the ends of the earth and of existence, to take Jesus there, is good! Three points, then: joy, Cross, young people.