World Youth Day has two symbols that accompany and represent it: the Pilgrim Cross and the icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani.
In the months before each WYD, the symbols go on a pilgrimage to be heralds of the Gospel and to accompany young people, in a special way, in the realities in which they live.
On November 22, 2020, at the Mass of the Solemnity of Christ the King, which was presided over by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Basilica, in Rome, a delegation of young people from Portugal received from the young people of Panama – the city that hosted the last WYD – , the symbols of World Youth Day.
The symbols of WYD, the Pilgrim Cross and the icon of Our Lady, are on pilgrimage through Portuguese dioceses, after having passed through some African countries with Portuguese as an official language.
At 3.8 meters high, the Pilgrim Cross, built for the Holy Year in 1983, was entrusted by John Paul II to young people on Palm Sunday of the following year, so that it could be carried around the world. Since then, the Pilgrim Cross, made of wood, began a pilgrimage that has taken it to five continents and to almost 90 countries. It has been seen as a true sign of faith.
It was transported on foot, by boat and even by unusual means such as sleds, cranes or tractors. He passed through the jungle, visited churches, juvenile detention centers, prisons, schools, universities, hospitals, monuments and shopping centers. Along the way, he faced many obstacles: from air strikes to transportation difficulties, such as the impossibility of traveling because he couldn’t fit in any of the available planes.
This Cross has established itself as a sign of hope in particularly sensitive places. In 1985, he was in Prague, in the current Czech Republic, at a time when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain, and there he was a sign of communion with the Pope.
Shortly after September 11, 2001, he traveled to Ground Zero, in New York, where the terrorist attacks that killed nearly three thousand people took place. He also passed through Rwanda in 2006, after the country was ravaged by civil war.
Since 2000, the Pilgrim Cross has been accompanied by the Icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani, which depicts the Virgin Mary with the Child in her arms. This icon was also introduced by Pope John Paul II as a symbol of Mary’s presence among young people. With 1.20 meters high and 80 centimeters wide, the icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani is associated with one of the most popular Marian devotions in Italy. There is an ancient tradition of taking it in procession through the streets of Rome, to ward off dangers and misfortunes or to put an end to pestilence. The original icon is found in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, in Rome, and is visited by Pope Francis who prays there and leaves a bouquet of flowers, before and after each apostolic journey.