24 January 2019
Panama: Pope Francis wins the young people over
On the day the Holy Father arrived in Panama, the WYD was in full swing with the activities of the pilgrim groups: catechesis, meantime, a profitable dialogue among the young people and their bishops on the theme of the WYD: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to Your word”. Then the festivals, spiritual, artistic, musical and theatrical events, exhibitions or simply the festive gathering of young people from different nations, with different languages and cultures but with a single faith and a single hope.
Some key official data: over 100,000 pilgrims from 156 countries registered for the WYD including 480 bishops and several thousand priests.
The catechesis sessions are held by 380 bishops in 137 locations and 25 different languages.
The running of the WYD was guaranteed by 20,000 local volunteers and 2,445 international volunteers.
2,500 journalists were registered..
And now, finally, Pope Francis is in Panama. All the pilgrims – also the whole Country, indeed we can say all of Central America – had been waiting for him with joy and hope. And the Holy Father responded to this wait by breaking with protocol and mingling with the crowd waiting at the airport, taking a child into his arms and giving everyone his smile and blessing.
After ten hours of travel no speeches had been planned, but a smile – and a smile from Pope Francis – was worth more than a thousand speeches.
Between memory and change
The day before, the grand opening Mass presided over by Mons. José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, the Archbishop of Panama, celebrated in the marvellous “Coastal Belt” setting, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean was attended by a large gathering of young pilgrims. It was estimated there were 150 thousand from 140 different countries. Monsignor Ulloa thanked all those attending: “Panama welcomes you today with its heart and with open arms! This Country is doing its very best to ensure each one of you has an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Path, the Truth and Life”.
After placing the WYD under the protection of Mary – Saint Mary Antigua, the patron saint of Panama – the Archbishop continued with his homily: “Thank you, Pope Francis, for your faith in us and the opportunity given to young people on the existential and geographical peripheries.”
Monsignor Ulloa said he was convinced that young people won’t be easily satisfied by slogans but are seeking authentic witnesses, promoting intergenerational dialogue so dear to Pope Francis and recalling the recent gathering of young indigenous people, the descendants of African slaves and the commitment to memory and change.
He then indicated the path of sainthood to the young people: “You must have the courage to be saints in today’s world but not by giving up your youth or your joy; on the contrary, you must show the world that it is possible to be happy with little, because Jesus Christ, the reason for our happiness, has already gained eternal life with his Resurrection”.
After the Mass, a show took place on the same stage in which some of the most famous Panamanian artists took part.