(from our correspondent in Panama) The climate in Panama is starting to grow warmer not only as a result of the typical summer temperatures, expected to rise above 30 degrees Celsius. In fact the atmosphere in Panama is warmed up by the presence tens of thousands of youths on their way to the Isthmus of Panama to gather around Pope Francis and celebrate together the World Youth Day (January 22-27). Many will be arriving after having participated in Days in the Dioceses that precede the papal program, such as approximately one thousand Italians received in the diocese of Chitre.
Parishes are in the frontline of reception and are clothed with the colours of their guests. Also the usually congested city traffic seems to have slowed its pace, although at Panama city some are convinced that it could never happen. But it doesn’t matter, the venues of the Papal events are easily accessible also on foot and the risk of further traffic jams has consequently been averted.
WYD and GDP. The WYD is yet to begin but some are already dabbling with numbers. In their own interest. In fact the WYD is not only an event that will bring spirituality and peace. It will also have a positive impact on the Country’s economy.
According to Panama’s Ministry of Economy, “it will deliver direct economic benefits amounting to 388 million dollars and up to 700 million – owing to indirect multiplying effects”, which corresponds to 1.5 points of Panama’s GDP forecast for 2019.
The figures were calculated considering the arrival of 200-250 thousand pilgrims from 194 Countries. These numbers are much lower than the “3 million who attended the WYD in Krakow, yet they are extremely significant in a Country with some 3 million tourists visiting each year.” The World Youth Day “is thus set to be one of the events with the greatest economic and financial impact ever experienced in the central-American Country.” According to local news media restaurants and hotels will benefit the most from the WYD. It is largely believed that the WYD will herald new opportunities in the tourist sector with pilgrims acting as testimonials of Panama after their return to their home countries. The remaining part will be played by 2000 accredited journalists that will provide broad news coverage of the WYD in Panama across almost all world Countries.
Welcome. Pilgrims are doubly welcomed. “Soy peregrino”, the periodical of the Organizing Committee of the WYD in Panama, released a special issue titled “Bienvenidos” (“Welcome!”) with a picture of the archbishop of the capital city Msgr. José Ulloa Mendieta, surrounded by numerous pilgrims. The publication has a large readership as it provides useful information on transport, security, and the program of the papal visit. It features a photo gallery, typical Panamanian recipes that youths are invited to savour, and a useful glossary with some of the main Panamanian terms that could be hard to understand also for Spanish-speaking pilgrims. As regards transport, the periodical informs that public transport will be free of charge during the WYD and increased by 25%. The urban mobility plan for the WYD will include also lines 1 and 2 of the metro with longer hours from January 22 to 25, from 5:00 am to 2:00 am. On January 26, starting at 5:00 am, trains will be running non-stop for 42 hours. The special issue also presents a set of curiosities, for example, the University of Panama will recognize 120 hours of social service to students who serve as volunteer workers during the WYD, while 400 artisans across the Country will offer their products to pilgrims.
With regard to artisans, Panamanian cabinetmaker Hernan Guardia, who created the papal chair that Francis will be using for the WYD, is completing his work. The 2.30 meter chair is handmade in ‘amargo’ cedar wood from the highlands of the Chiriqui region. It will be upholstered in white, decorated with symbols of the Vatican and of the Pope. The chair cost some 20 thousand dollars, a gift of the residents of El Chorrillo, one of the poorest neighbourhoods located in the heart of Panama City.
A wide-rimmed dream. Panama and its traditional light-cream and wide-brimmed hats. In Panama it is largely believed that the hat will become a ‘gadget’ that pilgrims will bring back home with them as a memento of the event. Will there be a ‘Panama hat’ also for Pope Francis? It’s the dream of four Panamanian children affected by a rare neurological disease that causes convulsions and severe dysautonomia. Luis, 14, Maverith, 13, Gabriel, 11 and Juan David, aged 10, were taught to embroider garments and objects by their mother. Having undergone surgery on their skull several times, embroidery is a relaxing game they perform with great skill; it is also relaxing and therapeutic.
The embroidery skills of these children are impressive: they insert needle and thread into the brim of the hat without the help of paper patterns but simply by memorising the logo that they reproduce in a few minutes’ time. For the WYD the four children have embroidered a cream-coloured ‘Panama hat’ with the logo of the Day and the name of the Pope Francis, as well as a white one for the archbishop of Panama, Msgr. José Ulloa Mendieta.
“Their dream – their mother said – is to give it to the Pope as a gift. In fact they brought the hats to the Archbishop’s Curia in the hope that they may be given to Pope Francis. Seeing the Pope wearing the Panama hat would be a great joy for us.” VIPs on their way. Press conferences are ongoing in the press office, providing updates on the Day along with the first confirmations from the Heads of State attending the event in Panama: Carlos Alvarado Quezada, from Costa Rica; Iván Duque Márquez from Colombia; Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa from Portugal; Jimmy Morales Cabrera, from Guatemala; Salvador Sánchez Cerén, from El Salvador; Juan Orlando Hernández A., from Honduras.