Official Welcome at the Airport of Tocumen, Panama.January 23, 2019
Fiat Festival 2019, A Night of EncounterJanuary 24, 2019
PANAMA CITY — It’s not every day that a pope visits Panama. In fact, it’s been 36 years.
Jan. 23 marks the first papal visit to Panama since Pope St. John Paul II’s visit in 1983 — and the anticipation in the midst of World Youth Day 2019 (WYD) was unmissable.
“The thing about World Youth Day is you see people from all over the world [gathering] for the same thing: God,” said Enrique Pinto, a WYD volunteer from Venezuela. WYD press interviewed Pinto a few hours before the pope’s arrival as he was directing pilgrims waiting to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at Forgiveness Park in Parque Omar.
“It’s beautiful [working in Forgiveness Park],” said Pinto, “You see the faces of the people when they enter and you see the change when they come out.”
But despite the beauty of witnessing the grace of reconciliation in action, Pinto was anticipating the pope’s arrival with excitement.
“I think my favorite thing about this World Youth Day will end up being seeing the pope in the papamóvil (popemobile),” he said.
And Pinto’s statement has proved true for many.
Thousands lined the streets of the papal motorcade route, which started at Tocumen International Airport and wove through the city and ended at the Apostolic Nunciature, Pope Francis’ residence during his visit to Panama.
The pope was greeted by an eruption of cheers and smiling faces chanting in Spanish, “Esta es la juventud del papa,” which translates to “This is the youth of the pope!”
But why did so many people come to wait in the heat and crowds to catch what was, at best, a ten-second glimpse of one man?
Lewis Moore, a 24 year-old pilgrim from the UK, asked himself the same question.
“I don’t really know why I did,” he began, pausing to reflect. “I suppose it’s because you think of him as the closest person to God. He was hand-chosen by God to make decisions for the whole Catholic Church.
The pope’s presence in Panama and proximity to the youth at WYD has been in itself a reminder of the persistent presence of Christ and his will for all Christians: to be at the service of others.
David Fernandez, 29, from Spain found this to be also true in his own life. He points to WYD as a consistent encounter with Christ, which is a main reason why he keeps coming back.
This is Fernandez’s seventh WYD and his first as a volunteer.
“Right now I’m studying a masters in clinical psychology,” said Fernandez, “and I had exams during this week. So, I changed them solely so I could come here. I got permission to miss classes while I’m here as well because I study in a Catholic university.”
For Fernandez, the choice to be a volunteer in Panama came naturally.
“I wanted to serve,” he said. “We have a saying in Spain that he who does not live to serve does not truly live — and whenever I’ve served in my life I’ve always been very content and happy. Serving is what gives you life.”
And the anticipation that preceded Pope Francis’ visit to Panama has not ended with his arrival. In fact, it is just beginning.
“Now that [Pope Francis] is here, I am really looking forward to the vigil Mass,” said Moore. “That’s going to be the apex of World Youth Day for me.”