VATICAN (CWN) -- The Vatican is expecting 50,000 youngsters-- most of them from Italy and France-- to participate in a meeting with Pope John Paul on the eve of Palm Sunday-- which falls on World Youth Day this year.

    &bnsp; Because of the size of the anticipated crowd, the Vatican has decided not to hold the annual meeting in the Paul VI Hall, but to move it to St. John Lateran. The remarkable increase in expected attendance is being attributed to the excitement generated by last year's World Youth Day in Paris, as well as the continuing drive for evangelization within the diocese of Rome in preparation for the Jubilee.

    &bnsp; The meeting, held on the theme "Take Up the Cross," is intended to prepare the young people of Italy to receive the "Cross of the Holy Year," which was used during the liturgical events held in St. Peter's Basilica during the Holy Year of 1983. Pope John Paul II later gave that cross to the young people of the world.

    &bnsp; On Palm Sunday itself, in a ceremony that will take place in St. Peter's Square, that cross will be solemnly conveyed to a delegation of young Italians (led by Cardinal Camillo Ruini) by a delegation from France (led by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger). The French youngsters, as hosts of the last World Youth Day, had themselves received the cross from their predecessors in that role, from the Philippines, on Palm Sunday of 1997.

    &bnsp; Before that ceremony, however, the youngsters from both nations will participate in a series of events beginning April 2 and continuing through Saturday, April 4, when the cross will be carried through the streets of Rome. That afternoon the young people will begin to assemble to present the cross to the Holy Father on the evening of their meeting.

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March 20-22, 1998 volume 9, no. 57         DAILY CATHOLIC