Panama President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez says his country has been preparing to welcome Pope Francis and World Youth Day pilgrims for more than two years. Source: Vatican News.
Pope Francis will today arrive in Panama City to be with hundreds of thousands of young people participating in the 34th World Youth Day.
As Mr Varela reveals, preparations to host the event kicked off on 31 July, 2016, when Pope Francis wrapped up the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, with the announcement that Panama City had been chosen as the next venue.
Describing his people as “noble and hard-working”, “full of faith and hope” he said that since 2009, when the country was preparing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the first Catholic diocese on the American continent, many began to dream of the possibility of a papal visit to Panama. That dream, he said, has finally come true.
Mr Rodriguez also noted that to welcome the Pope – not for a pastoral visit to a particular country – but for an event that gathers thousands of young people from all over the world in one place, is perfectly in keeping with Panama’s vocation to be a bridge and a mediator.
Once again, he said, Panama will be the country that “builds bridges between nations and cultures, a meeting point, a starting point for Pope Francis’s message that will be spread from here to all corners of the earth”.
“As a Panamanian, I feel honoured that our country will be at the heart of the world for a few days, pumping the Pope’s message of hope, unity, solidarity and concern for those in need.”
Meanwhile, CNS interviewed two Broken Bay Diocese pilgrims about their hopes for World Youth Day.
For 16-year-old Charlie Martin, the event presents the opportunity to come in contact with a physical reality of a Church that was alive in the Americas centuries before Australia became an independent nation in 1901, one told by the many historic buildings where Catholics in the region worship and where they have built lives of faith. But he also experienced different expressions of that faith than he’s used to.
“It’s been an amazing, you feel like a celebrity,” he said, explaining the warm greetings expressed by Panamanians when they see the pilgrims walking about. “We walk into shopping centres and people are clapping for us.”
And indeed, locals wave at buses carrying pilgrims and local businesses have placed posters on storefronts welcoming them and Pope Francis to Panama.
“It’s been amazing,” said 15-year-old Aubrey Tedd, also traveling with Charlie. “Everyone comes together with great energy.”
President of Panama: ‘we are ready to welcome Pope Francis’ (Vatican News)