World Youth Day 2019 – A Reflection

January 20th to the 30th marked the expedition of a lifetime for Ottawa youth in attendance of the 16th World Youth Day 2019 in Panama City, Central America situated between  Costa Rica and Columbia.

As one of the pilgrims who attended this journey beyond compare, I have had a challenging time describing this experience to others in words.

I have simply determined that there are no words to describe this phenomenal experience, and have best decided it is simply an event you have to experience for yourself, in order to fully grasp the grandeur of this faith journey.

However, if this opportunity is ever afforded you, the following is a summary of this experience.

Picture it: a 10-day pilgrimage focused on the individual journey behind self-discovery in accordance with faith, as well as the community which can be felt when celebrating our faith culture alongside 700 000 international youth.

While this large gathering is primarily youth populated, in my experience now, individuals of all ages attend this event.  This in turn, allows everyone the opportunity to grow from one another and feel as though we have a faith community within reach, all over the world, despite sometimes feeling alone in our faith journey.

The Ottawa pilgrims, explored Panamanian rainforests, the city, toured life inside the heart of the city, as well as outside of it alongside the locals, worshipped in many different ways, met people of all ages from all over the world – all with the purpose of serving Someone so much greater then ourselves.

More specifically however, life inside the city consisted of worship through music, theatre and dancing, with locations all over the city dedicated to allowing the youth to sing, dance, worship and experience among both new friends and old friends, while waiting in hopeful anticipation for the arrival of Pope Francis.

Life inside the city also allowed us the opportunity to parade through the streets on our way to assemble with approximately 1200 other pilgrims representing Canada.

With our English catechesis every morning (met people from all over the world who speak English!), Mass every day, art festivals all over, designated worship locations, opening ceremonies, the opening address and the Ways of the Cross lead by Pope Francis, local food, local culture, a pool that stayed open the majority of the night in our hotel, lots of walking, tracking the Pope’s every move, and pictures with our Canadian flag with friends from all over, we definitely were kept very busy leading up to the real pilgrimage, and the conclusion of our journey.

We concluded the World Youth Day pilgrimage with a weekend long journey which consisted of 15km of walking both there and back (about 5-6 hours of walking), a massive campout with over 700 000 people in attendance (A GIANT SLEEPOVER), worship and adoration alongside Pope Francis, a little bit of shut eye, and then waking up nice and early for the concluding Mass lead by the Pope.

After we had finally made our way back from a long, hot and sweaty weekend, we slept on it, and then concluded our stay, by visiting the local Panamanian town of Portobelo, Colon, situated roughly about 2 hours outside of Panama City.  Once there, we toured, took in the breathtaking views and enjoyed the fresh air and warm sunshine with both family and friends.

To conclude, I know I speak for not only myself, but for all of the youth involved from out Ottawa pilgrimage, when I say a huge thank you to those many people who have supported us in our faith based growth. Plans are eagerly being made to attend World Youth Day 2022 in Portugal!


All photos courtesy of Archbishop Prendergast, SJ.

Bianca Picciano is studying for a BA in Theology at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 08:42h, 05 April Reply

    Thank you Bianca!

  • Catalina Koss
    Posted at 13:21h, 06 April Reply

    So well writen! And speaking from personal experience I am not surprised! Bianca, it was a privilege to share part of our faith journey together at WYD-Panama. What a gift to get to know someone like you, full of LIFE, and love and deep faith. ❤️

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