World Youth Day Panama
On January 13 at St. Joseph’s Parish in Orleans, I presided at a send-off Mass for the Ottawa archdiocesan delegation to World Youth Day (WYD – January 22 to 27).
Fifty-eight of us youth, parents, teachers, youth leaders, and clergy left early January 20 for the international event in Panama City. Other groups from Ottawa will travel separately.
This experience will be transformative for our pilgrims. In turn, they will share the blessing with their peers when they come back home.
An inspired project proposed by Saint Pope John Paul II to challenge Catholic young adults, WYD events celebrate faith, provide intercultural exchanges, and broaden a person’s horizons.
The prospects of meeting new people and enjoying the 35°C weather certainly excite our young participants. However, I encouraged them to be prayerful and serious, because this journey is more a pilgrimage than tourism.
I invited the Ottawa delegation to be open to a profound encounter with their Lord Jesus Christ in the mystery and communion of his Church. From my own experiences at WYD in Paris, Rome, Toronto, Cologne, Sydney, and Madrid, these days have had an enormous impact over the years. In 1987, WYD spread from Rome to Buenos Aires and beyond. I know many young adults who discovered at WYD a call to serve in the priesthood, religious life, or Christian marriage.
Previous WYD gatherings have attracted youth in the millions. Up to five million attended WYD in Manila in 1995 and two million in Krakow in 2016. This edition will be smaller, nearer the scale of Denver and Toronto, which hosted fewer than a million.
The very presence of the Holy Father will be inspiring. Pope John Paul II presided at the earliest versions of WYD beginning in Vatican City and Rome (1984–85) and culminating with his unforgettable visit to Toronto in July 2002.
Pope Benedict XVI attended three youth festivals in Cologne, Sydney, and Madrid.
For Pope Francis, Panama will be his third meeting with youth after gatherings he took part in at Rio de Janeiro and Krakow. He will arrive in Panama City on January 22 to a welcome ceremony that afternoon. The pope will also lead an outdoor night vigil prior to the closing Sunday Mass on January 27.
The six-day program will be intensive. Reflection groups are to take place on three mornings. I will lead one in English on January 23. Outreaches to the needy are organized for the afternoons. Daily festivals will offer drama, music, prayer, and reconciliation. Friday evening features an outdoor Way of the Cross.
Reflecting on what benefit they gained from our WYD adventure with groups from Toronto, Halifax, and Ottawa that I have accompanied, I would often hear, “Now, I realize that I’m not alone. Many others share my faith.”
Their hearts fill with joy when they speak of this. For, at times, young Christians can feel isolated in an increasingly secular culture that pushes faith to the margins. It is important to rediscover that many young adults around the world are in love with Jesus and his Church. They remind us that it is okay—rather, it is vital—to be a public witness.
Many young adults, having found joy in Christ at WYD, return to their home life with a newfound freedom to be alive in their faith.
I am asking parishioners in Ottawa to keep us in your prayers as we commit to praying for your intentions on our pilgrimage. We promise to share with you our joy and enthusiasm upon our return to contribute to the mission of our local Church.
Photos courtesy of the author.