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The origins of World Youth Day are tied to two events that featured the youth themselves as protagonists: The Jubilee in 1984 and the International Youth Year in 1985.

The young people’s response to the Holy Father’s invitation was extraordinary. The Pope gave the youth the Cross, as a symbol of the Jubilee year. This Cross has become the Cross of the youth, the World Youth Day Cross.

The first World Youth Day after the institution of this event in the Church was celebrated on a diocesan level.

The first World Youth Day outside of Rome took place in 1987, one year later, on Palm Sunday in Buenos Aires.

We gather together today at the World Youth Day, together with the Church, said Pope John Paul II in the opening Mass.

More than one million young people attended the first World Youth Day outside of Rome.

Next, it was Santiago de Compostela’s turn to host the event in 1989. The World Youth Day featured a program and structure with three definitive parts: Catechesis, the Prayer Vigil, and the Mass with the youth from all over the world.

After this came Częstochowa, another shrine. This time, it was a Marian shrine, the destination of many pilgrimages. On a historical level, this event was the first World Youth Day to include youth from two previously hostile regions, because it was the first to take place after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The next World Youth Day celebration was in Denver, a pilgrimage to a modern city, instead of a shrine. It’s a modern metropolis where participants brought Christ’s presence to life by bearing witness to Him.

Then, another World Youth Day: Manila. The gathering in the Philippines has gone down in history as the largest World Youth Day ever, with some 4 million participants. This was the first time that so many young people, so many people gathered together with Peter’s successor.

The next was in France. Among other new developments, France added the celebration of the Stations of the Cross as well as the visits to French Dioceses.

Next came the great Jubilee in 2000. More than 2 million young people gather in Kairos, sacred time, the special time of the great Jubilee.

Once again, we find ourselves in a modern city, Toronto.

Cologne went down in history as the World Youth Day of two Popes: Pope John Paul II who called for the celebration, chose Cologne, and prepared this World Youth Day, and Pope Benedict XVI, who celebrated it.

Pope Benedict has completely identified himself with this program proposed by Pope John Paul II to evangelize young people.

After Cologne was Sydney. In spite of the fact that only 20% of the population is Catholic the welcoming was spectacular.

Spain hosted the event the second time in 2011 in Madrid. The number of people attending exceeded expectations. An estimated 1,000,000 were in the aerodrome of Cuatro Vientos at seven o'clock in the evening of the Vigil Mass, which made this the largest Catholic event ever staged in Spain. Many pilgrims walked from the centre of Madrid (12.6 km), although extra public transport was put on.

And now we are on our way towards Rio de Janeiro, a journey full of high hopes and great expectations.

Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko
President of the Pontifical Council of the Laity.