Today is not only Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week in the Roman Catholic Church, but it is also known as World Youth Day.
Most people associate World Youth Days with those mega-spiritual events that take place on a global scale every three years - like the one Toronto hosted in 2002.
In 1985, Pope John Paul II established the annual World Youth Days to be celebrated locally in each country on Palm Sunday. This gives many young people - who might never make it to one of the world celebrations - a chance to take part in a celebration in their own country and home diocese.
"The principal objective of World Youth Days is to make the person of Jesus the centre of the faith and life of every young person so that he may be their constant point of reference and also the inspiration of every initiative and commitment for the education of the new generations," the Pope wrote in 1996.
Pope Benedict has continued this great tradition started by his predecessor and is expected to travel to Sydney, Australia in July 2008 for the next global celebration of Catholic youth.
Fittingly, this year's World Youth Day falls on April 2, the eve of the second anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. I will never forget the incredibly moving scenes of several million people (half the crowd was young people) who descended upon Rome two years ago for the funeral of the pope.
"Santo subito!" shouted those crowds in St. Peter's Square. "Sainthood now!" Shortly after his election, John Paul's successor Pope Benedict waived the normally required five-year wait before John Paul's sainthood cause could begin.
Just last month - after her community prayed for John Paul's help - a French nun had been healed of Parkinson's disease, the malady that afflicted the pope at the end of his life.
Tomorrow the Polish Pope will move a step closer to sainthood exactly two years after his death, with the end of the main fact-gathering part of the beatification and canonization procedures. A special ceremony will be held in Rome marking the end of the diocesan phase and the arrival in the Vatican of the weighty dossier which will then be studied by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
'You are my hope'
On Oct. 22, 1978, the day of the inauguration of John Paul II's papal ministry, at the conclusion of the liturgy, he said to the young people gathered in St. Peter's Square: "You are the hope of the Church and of the world. You are my hope." How often he repeated those words throughout his nearly 27-year reign.
He repeated that theme in Downsview Park on July 28, 2002, at the conclusion of World Youth Day in Toronto: "You are young and the Pope is old and a bit tired. But he still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations. Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son."
What wonderful words by which we can remember him. May he rest in peace and continue his work for young people from above.