Pope Francis to meet with Panamanian children who are socially vulnerableJanuary 27, 2019
Mass with clergy, religious storyJanuary 27, 2019
You are the 'now of God', pope tells wearied, but hopeful pilgrims
The morning started with a friendly, if loud, wake up call. Then booming music and coordinated exercises, and a rush to find a nearby toilet and refresh after a night under the stars.
By the time the sun had risen over the final day of World Youth Day, the horizon was peppered with hundreds of flags waving in the air, a sign of rousing pilgrims. Just ten hours earlier, hundreds of thousands of young people attended the vigil with Pope Francis. Organizers estimated 400,000 attended the nighttime event, many camping overnight in tents, air beds and whatever else they could carry with them. Yes, it was a struggle: the field isn't soft, it's often craggy, uncomfortable, uneven and certainly not a sleeping mattress.
But the entire experience, which climaxed with Sunday's Mass of Sending Forth celebrated by Pope Francis, was a series of unique and spiritual encounters set in Panama with the universal Church and its pope.
At the closing Mass, held early in the day to avoid the midday heat, Pope Francis looked out into the crowds and told them: "You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God."
"He invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders" he said. "Stand up with them and [speak out] and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you."
He said Mary dared to say "yes" to take part in the "now of the Lord."
Standing beneath a large Filipino flag waving in the strong Panamanian breeze, Xavier Dimalanta said sleeping overnight on the ground was 'really hard,' but he appreciated the fact that he wasn't alone in his experience. His fellow pilgrims from his own parish and the estimated 700,000 Dimalanta joined also understood his pains.
The 23-year-old Filipino pilgrim from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Manila said he "enjoyed the concert and the parties, but also hearing about Jesus Christ and His Church."
His fellow Filipinos enjoyed the morning exercises that helped wake them up for the morning.
He said he looked forward to Mass with the pope, an experience that he thought would bring him hope.
On the complete other side of the park, pilgrims from Anchorage, Alaska in the United States welcomed the opportunity to pray with the pope at the vigil and the Mass.
Anthony, 16, traveled to Panama with a group of young adults and chaperones from the Archdiocese of Anchorage. A few others still resting on the ground, Anthony was up on his feet eagerly waiting to greet the Holy Father another time.
"Last night was really fun," he said. Anthony visited other international pilgrims and danced the night away for more than two hours with Spanish pilgrims and other Latin Americans.
But most importantly, the he enjoyed praying with the pope.
"While we are supposed hold the pope with such high honor, it reminds us that the he is still just one of us," he said. "He is still someone that we can pray with, and who is also still on his own spiritual journey."
Other than the spiritual aspects of World youth Day, he said his favorite part about World Youth Day was meeting so many other pilgrims and trading souvenirs.
"This was my first World Youth Day and I've been loving it so much," Anthony said.
He's already thinking about the next World Youth Day, much like the Portuguese pilgrims who are looking forward to hosting World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022. And with memories of Panama fresh as today, pilgrims like Anthony and Xavier are setting their sights on the next WYD destination.