It was 31 years ago this month that John Paul II, seeing a need for young people to have a place of pilgrimage in Rome, established the Centro San Lorenzo (CSL), a small international youth center located just a few meters from the Vatican.
Now, preparations are underway for the canonization of its founder who, along with Blessed John XXIII, will be declared saints next month on Divine Mercy Sunday.
In anticipation of the millions of people expected to attend the canonizations, the CSL is busy preparing to welcome pilgrims for the event.
CSL director, Katja Tootill, told ZENIT that for the youth who have come to the center over the years, “it’s definitely an exciting moment. It’s like a confirmation. We’ve lived with a saint, we’ve been in the presence of a saint.
“I think for the young people this is a great gift from God.”
From April 22-25, the week ahead of the canonizations, the CSL will host several speakers, including Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko and biographer George Weigel.
Pilgrims will also have the opportunity to venerate the original World Youth Day Cross, which is housed at the CSL year round. John Paul II had entrusted the Cross in 1983 to the youth of the world, as represented by the CSL team.
Marc Homsey, a deacon for the Diocese of Leeds at Rome’s Venerable English College, has been involved with the CSL since 2008. One of his tasks over the years has been to organize a group of people to take the WYD Cross out on the streets to evangelize.
“Pope John II has always been held very close to the hearts of everyone at the Centro,” he told ZENIT. “He was very much loved as a pope when he was alive. Even after his death his legacy has remained.”
“For him to be canonized, to be definitively declared as being in Heaven, will be extra special for the young people of the CSL,” he said, “as it means we will benefit from his intercessory power from Heaven.”
Deacon Homsey noted that the upcoming canonizations also serve as an opportunity to “delve even deeper into all his writings that he gifted to us during his lifetime.”
Director of communications at the CSL, Alexey Gotovskiy, told ZENIT that as the team prepares for the canonization of John Paul II, the mission he established for the youth center 31 years ago continues.
“In the beginning, John Paul II came to the CSL and he celebrated Mass, he prayed, and his wish was that it would be a center for young people who come from around the world to Rome.”
The CSL, he explained, is a place where young people can come “to pray, to meet other young people, and to discover the Church.”
For him to have the founder of the CSL to be canonized, he said, is “a great joy.”