(from Panama) It’s the WYD of Central America. It’s the WYD of young people who dream a future of peace for this Region. It’s a jubilation of flags in the Campo Santa Maria la Antigua in Cinta Costera. It’s the place where young people have come together to attend the opening Mass of the World Youth Day. A huge stage was especially set up on the bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean, here the youths were welcomed by music groups that performed live throughout the afternoon of January 22.
It’s a festive gathering with dance, music and cries of joy. It’s the energy of Latin America. Young people enjoy themselves. They wave their flags. They dance. They cry out their enthusiasm. But deep inside, all of them, regardless of borders and colours, share the same concerns and the same yearning for peace and justice. They are worn out by contexts afflicted by social problems and political situations that are having serious repercussions on the life of the people. Migration, poverty, desperation. Emmy is 17. She comes from Honduras. She describes the WYD as an experience “that deserves being lived out in full.” Forty youths from her parish have travelled here to attend the event, she said. She then added: “also my Country is going through a complex political situation marked by corruption and crime. We are here to pray for our Countries. Prayer is the only beam of light that can touch the hearts of our Presidents. Pope Francis is the Holy Father we admire. He is close to God, and thus he is close to the prayers for our Country.” Felix, 23, arrived from Salvador. He said he is looking forward to “a message of peace and love from Pope Francis. Our Countries are challenged by numerous problems, political and economic problems alike. Many people are in deep suffering and they dream a better Country. We place our hopes in God, the bringer of Peace. Only with His help shall we move forward.”
It’s the third WYD in Latin America (the first took place in Argentina in 1987) , the second for the Latin American Pope, after Rio 2013. Geographic vicinity facilitates travel. Mexican youths said they worked two years to afford the expense of this trip and for the first time in history almost 500 youths from Cuba travelled to Panama to join the WYD celebrations. It’s a small token of the recent openings that took place also thanks to Pope Francis and to the recent dialogue meetings between the Holy See and Havana. The complex situation on the island is seen in the fact that Cuban youths don’t want to share their thoughts speaking into a microphone. Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, Nicaragua. Michelle, from Costa Rica, said that “this Region can have a future only if all its Countries come together in unison. We have many things in common, we share the same destiny.
Our hope for the future is that there shall be no borders.”
Young people look up to Pope Francis, the Latin American Pope, the Pope that “knows how to speak to the young and to reach out to people’s hearts. We expect a lot from him. We are sure that he will surprise us.”
At 5.00 pm the large choir beneath the altar started to sing. Also the liturgy conveys the vivacity and the rhythm of the young. The archbishop of Panama, Msgr. José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta co-celebrated with 400 bishops and some one thousand priests. In his homily he described a “WYD for young people from existential and geographic peripheries”, defining it a “balm for the troubled situation afflicting many of them who are living without hope, especially indigenous youths and Afro-descendents, those emigrating as a result of lack of solutions in their Countries of origin, youths who leave their homeland exposing themselves to drug trafficking, trafficking in human persons, crime and many more social diseases.” The path indicated by the prelate “to address challenges that life puts before us” is the Eucharist, “spiritual nourishment.” He underlined that “the call to follow Christ is valid, everlasting, intense and filled with tenderness.”
“Perhaps as a Church – admitted Msgr. Ulloa – we were unable to express this clearly, for at times adults are convinced that the young don’t want to listen, that they are deaf and empty inside. But the reality is different. Young people need guidance, accompaniment, and most of all, they need to be listened to. They seek witnesses with substance and experience. They are not looking for an intellectualized and learned God. They seek someone who bears witness to this with his life.”It’s the path to holiness, the same path indicated by the Patron Saints of the WYD. The archbishop listed them one by one, and ended by quoting Saint Oscar Romero, received with a huge ovation by 75 thousand youths present. “These Saints show us that holiness is possible, in all cultures and in all ethnicities, regardless of gender or age.” The remaining part of the opening day of the WYD is a festive celebration that continues in the streets, awaiting Pope’s Francis’ arrival.