31 January 2019
WYD Panama 2019

From the Vigil to Lisbon 2022

The last pages of the diary of this extraordinary adventure that this World Youth Day has been

Saturday. “Vigil” is not “the day before, the eve, but in ancient use, the  fact of keeping watch,  of paying attention to everything that is about to happen, the preparation, also spiritual, for the celebration. Therefore, today is both the eve, the day before, and the Vigil and they are one single waiting, getting ready and honing our attention to what we are experiencing here in Panama.

For the Holy Father, the day began with the dedication of the altar in the Cathedral, the Basilica of Saint Mary Antigua,  after a lengthy restauration – “Brothers and Sisters, let us not steal the beauty we have inherited from our fathers!”, said the Pope – and continued with the traditional luncheon with a few young people  – seven from five continents.

And now, here we are at the Campo Saint John Paul II at the Metro Park in Panama. And here we are at the Vigil, that the young have certainly reached in a pilgrimage through the streets of the city, thousands and hundreds of thousands of them. And here we are at night, waiting for Pope Francis who is again in the midst of the young people and first of all listens, observes and participates.

He listens to the testimony of a family and of two young people whose lives are fraught with difficulties, but also full of love for Jesus.  He observed the movements, the faces of the young people, Mary – the Mary who appeared at Fatima – who was close to him on the stage.

Then he spoke and echoed the difficulties he had just heard: “To say ‘yes’ to the Lord means preparing  to embrace life as it comes, with all its fragility, its simplicity and often enough too with all its conflicts and annoyances”.

His participation extended to the difficulties that many young people are facing in various situations:   “without work, without education, without community, without any family”, these are the four “withouts” that “kill”, stated Pope Francis, who then talked about the example of the saints  – “finding spaces where, with your hands, your hearts and your heads you can feel part of a larger community that needs you and that you yourselves need.  This is what the saints did, they had the courage to look at young people with the eyes of God” – arriving, finally, at the crucial question: “Weren’t you created for something greater? Are you willing to say ‘yes’?”. “The Gospel” – recalled the Pope – teaches us that the world will not be a better place because there are fewer sick, weak, frail or elderly people to look after or because there are fewer sinners.  Rather, it will be better when more people, like these friends, are willing and have enough courage to give birth to tomorrow and believe in the transforming strength of God’s love”. “Are you ‘influencers’ in the style of Mary, who dared to say ‘let it be done’?” In fact, “Only love makes us more human and fulfilled; everything else is pleasant but useless placebo”.

The Pope left after the Eucharist Adoration.  The young people were left with these simple but strong words.   Perhaps somebody, like Mary, reflected on them in silence in his own heart all through the night.


Sunday. Yesterday’s words on life and love returned today, experienced in Holy Communion by this crowd of young people, by their bishops and priests, by the volunteers who worked so hard to prepare these days and also by the journalists who recounted it to the whole world.

Faith lived, true communion, flags that do not divide but show just how rich, multiform, surprising are the people of God who find themselves united around Christ and Pope Francis.

They returned in the gestures and the homily of the Pope: “God is real because love is real, God is concrete because love is concrete”; this concreteness for young people means that “you are not the future, but the now of God, it is nothing to do with staying in a “waiting room” waiting for one’s turn, but to action God’s love in his own life. “We may possess everything, but if we lack the passion of love, we will have nothing, said Pope Francis, once more speaking on a theme which he has been discussing for some time with young people, that of intergenerational exchange: “The enrichment of listening among generations, the richness of the exchange and the value of recognizing that we need each other, that we must  make an effort to  encourage channels and spaces in which to involve ourselves in dreaming and building tomorrow today”.  The Pope concluded by saying: “Do you want to live out your love in a practical way? Your ‘yes’ must continue to be the gateway for the Holy Spirit to give us a new Pentecost for the world and for the Church”.  Then, together with Cardinal Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, he announced that the next World Youth Day would be in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022.

Another two events marked Pope Francis’s dy.  His visit to the Good Samaritan Home that provides aid to 60 young people and adults in difficulty, including those with Aids. “to be here is like touching the maternal and silent face of the Church” – said the Holy Father – and “A home, and this we all know very well, demands the cooperation of everyone. No-one can be indifferent or aloof because every one of us is a stone needed to build it”.

Then, in the Rommel Fernandez stadium, the meeting with the 20.000 volunteers, more than 2,000 of which were international and who have worked hard to make this event possible,  the value of self-giving and sacrifice for something greater, also for them a missionary invitation: “go forth and tell, go forth and bear witness, not with lots of words but with simple and ordinary gestures”.


Monday. An initial assessment, off the cuff.  What has Panama given to young people at this WYD? The proof that even a small Country can do great things.  The discovery that a smile, a welcome and availability are the keys for implementing immediate communication, to make everybody feel at home.  The great heart of this small Country and its Archbishop, who worked tirelessly and generously, involving the entire Panamanian population and the whole of Central America in this undertaking which had seemed impossible.

Next, the first step in the walk of the Church with young people after the Synod that was dedicated to them last year, with greater attention to listening and sharing seriously and profoundly  the most urgent problems, from those on identity and the role of young people in Society, to the themes of lack of work, of safeguarding and care of the Created,  of sexuality lived responsibly, the search for answers when faced with suffering and pain.

Pope Francis indicated the way of simple and every day gestures which can revolutionize the world.  The young people  who are now  going back home to their daily life,  will know how to cherish the wisdom of the Holy Father and shatter the cage of habit to let love and real life burst into their existence.  They will know how to do it because they have experienced it here, in Panama. Because here they were not alone, but together with their friends, their communities, and with their priests.  They will walk together.  And even if they might fall, as the Pope mentioned during the Vigil, the important thing is to know how to get up again.

A goal is on the horizon: Lisbon, 2022.