28 January 2019
The Panama Days
Thursday. The Pope is here, in Panama and the city woke up today knowing the long wait had finished and the time to meet him had actually come.
During the catechesis in the morning, you could feel the joy of the young people to be here, the desire to prepare themselves well, to be ready to meet Pope Francis.
Where was Pope Francis? At a meeting with the President of Panama, then with the Diplomatic Corps, the Central American Bishops and various religious leaders… and finally, in the afternoon, the crowd gathered on the Coastal Belt – 250 thousand persons, so many colours, so many flags - to welcome the Holy Father, listen to his greeting and the thanks of Monsignor Ulloa, the Archbishop of Panama, and then finally listen to the words of the Pope.
“Peter and the Church walk with you and we want to tell you not to be afraid, to go forward with the same fresh energy and restlessness that helps make us happier and more available, better witnesses to the Gospel” – said Pope Francis. And, referring to the recent Youth Synod: “With you, we want to rediscover and reawaken the Church’s constant freshness and youth, opening ourselves up to a new Pentecost”.
A greeting, all together, to Pope Benedict XVI: remembrance of the Saints who accompany young people along the path of this WYD, especially Saint John Paul II and Saint Oscar Romero. A strong request for unity, for mutual love: “My dear young friends, this Day will not be a final document, a message agreed upon or a programme to be carried out. The most hope-filled result of this meeting will be your faces and a prayer. Each of you will return home with the new strength that is generated with each encounter with others and with the Lord. You will return hope filled with the Holy Spirit so that you can cherish and keep alive this dream that makes us brothers and sisters, and that we must not let grow cold in the heart of our world: wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we can always look up and say ‘Lord, teach me to love as you have loved us’. Will you repeat it with me? ‘Lord, teach me to love as you have loved us’.”
And let us say it again: ‘Lord, teach me to love like You who loved us’. And with this love, the fest continued.
Friday. By casting aside, separating and isolating will all our problems be solved? No, said Pope Francis, we pollute our life, we make it incapable of recognizing our brothers and sisters in others, we build walls. Suffering multiplies.
The WYD has always offered young people a day for reflection on suffering and on the Cross and for the first time a Pope celebrated the penitential liturgy inside a prison, the detention centre for young inmates, Las Garzas de Pacora, in Panama. After a brief and unexpected meeting with about 500 Cuban pilgrims present at the WYD – for the first time in such large numbers – the Holy Father arrived in Pacora and first of all he reached out to these young people who are already bearing the burden of life. He then recalled that “Jesus shatters the mentality that separates, excludes, isolates and falsely separates the good and the bad” and “he does it by creating relationships capable of generating new processes”.
This penitential Friday continued with the Via Crucis in the Campo Santa Maria Antigua on the Coastal Belt. Station after station, an “open wound” that afflicts the American Continent is recalled. The cry of indigenous peoples, the suffering inflicted on Mother Earth, the difficult peace and reconciliation processes, world terrorism. The prayers of the migrants are entrusted to the young people of Venezuela. “Still today we hear the footsteps of those who have not only lost everything but see borders and doors closing before them. The borders that demarcate the Countries turn into piercing and menacing crowns of thorns in the contempt and refusal shown to many of our brothers and sisters.” Finally, the Pope joined in with the voice of the young people. He too listed the faces of suffering in which today the Way of the Cross is prolonged. He indicated Maria as an example. A woman of strength and courage. A woman who was not overwhelmed by suffering. It is from Mary - said the Pope – that young people can learn today to be those who “refuse to remain silent in the face of a culture of maltreatment and abuse”; to welcome and take in all those who are “forced to leave or lose their land”; to stand beneath the Cross, not with hearts tightly shut, but with hearts that know how to accompany”, with tenderness. And the Cross becomes light.