BY FREDDY GRAY
MORE THAN one thousand Catholics brought traffic in London to a standstill last weekend as they joined the procession of the World Youth Day Cross.
The structure, which is 12 ft tall, was carried from St George’s Cathedral in Southwark, via Westminster Abbey, to Westminster Cathedral.
Young Catholics across Britain have been celebrating the arrival of the Cross, which made its first appearance in England last Thursday. The heavy wooden Cross is continuing a pilgrimage through England and Wales. Since its arrival in this country, it has already been seen by more than 8, 000 people.
The London leg of the pilgrimage attracted some 3,000 people, before the Cross was handed over to the young people of the Brentwood diocese. It will visit all 22 dioceses. So far it has reached Arundel and Brighton, Southwark, Westminster, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Cardiff. Next, it will travel to Leeds, Liverpool and finally Newcastle. It will then be handed over to Scotland’s young Christians.
Pope John Paul II presented the Cross to the young people of the world in 1983. He asked that the huge icon be “carried throughout the world as a symbol for Christ’s love of humanity”.
Since then, the Cross has covered 30,000 miles. It has been a focal point for World Youth Day international gatherings, which take place every two to three years. These gatherings have brought together millions of young people all over the world. In 1984, the World Youth Day in the Philippines attracted four million Christians.
Such a hectic schedule has meant that, until last Thursday, the Cross had not reached Britain. The long wait was brought to an end at a Mass in St Winfred’s School, Crawley, in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton. Three Swiss delegates handed it over to pupils and young representatives of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
Bishop Ambrose Griffiths of Hexham and Newcastle, president of Catholic Youth Services, attended the service and spoke of “the powerfully symbolic” nature of the Cross. He added: “It is a reminder of the love of God for us. The fact that it has been carried out around the world and seen by millions of young people who share our faith is a great encouragement that they are not alone in following Christ our saviour.” Bishop Griffiths pointed out the significance of the Cross starting its tour in Arundel and Brighton. “The Holy Father’s visit to Britain in 1982 began in Arundel and Brighton and so, in a sense, this Cross is following in his footsteps,” he said.
The Cross was supposed to arrive at Gatwick airport from Geneva, but no airline would take it. With no other way of transporting the Cross, the Swiss delegates decided to drive through the night to make sure it arrived on time.