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Young adults from the Archdiocese of St. Louis attended World Youth Day in Panama in January. The trip was organized by the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry.
Young adults from the Archdiocese of St. Louis attended World Youth Day in Panama in January. The trip was organized by the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy Angela Richard

St. Louis pilgrims experience universal Church in Panama at World Youth Day

Almost two dozen young adults from the archdiocese attended World Youth Day activities

On her first day in Panama, Jasmin Robles encountered a woman from Venezuela on her way to a World Youth Day event. After some initial chit-chat, the Venezuelan woman started to become emotional.

Pope Francis arrived to lead the World Youth Day prayer vigil at St. John Paul II Field in Panama City Jan. 26.
Photo Credits: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service
As it turns out, she was going from group to group on the train, asking people to offer messages of support in a video she was making in response to political unrest in Venezuela. More than two dozen people have died following mass demonstrations against newly sworn-in incumbent President Nicolas Maduro.

Robles, who was with almost two dozen young adults from St. Louis attending World Youth Day, said their group jumped right into action. “She asked me to pray for her and her country,” Robles said in a telephone interview. “She said that times are very hard and her country needs to be prayed for. So we all placed our hands on her and prayed over her.”

It was a moment in which Robles, of St. Justin Martyr Parish in Sunset Hills, realized she wasn’t just there for herself, “but as a universal Church to pray for one another.”

Members of the St. Louis contingent, which was organized through the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry, described their week in Panama as vibrant.

“From the very first moment we stepped foot in Panama until we left, the people embraced us with open arms,” Robles said. The locals approached them, asking to take pictures together, and others honked their horns. “It felt like a celebrity status,” she said. “An older man asked us to pray for him and his family. We were so well-received.”

One of the themes of the week was discovering personal “fiat” moments, when we say “yes” to the Lord like Mary did. “Pope Francis referred to Mary at the final Mass as the greatest ‘influencer,’ which was very moving for our group,” said Angela Richard, coordinator of Young Adult Ministry.

Most of the St. Louisans did not know one another prior to their trip — they came from Wildwood, Kirkwood, St. Charles, Downtown, south St. Louis and Illinois, among other places. The group stayed at a family-run hostel in Obarrio, which Richard described as a welcoming, family-like atmosphere. On the last night, they invited their host family for a meal at the hostel — a cookout featuring grilled pineapple, onions, peppers, chorizo and bratwurst.

At World Youth Day events, Richard said that the biggest highlight was the people from all over the world with whom she interacted. “All of them want to love you as Christians in a way that we have never encountered before,” she said. “It was very easy to be in conversation, as we were all packed in so close together. There was an energy and light and love that was coming from them.”

Shane VanDiest, director of Young Adult Ministry, attended a Traditional Latin Mass while he was in Panama, and noted that many people from other countries don’t have the same kind of access to the Latin Mass that he has back home in St. Louis.

“I was one of a few people in that church that is a regular Latin Massgoer,” he said. “I go once or twice a week at both the oratories in town. A lot of the people there were from countries, including Panama, who said this was their first Latin Mass or their first Latin Mass since last World Youth Day.”

VanDiest said he’s convinced the draw for the newcomers was because of something they heard or read about the beauty of the Latin Mass. “For me, it was a chance to celebrate a Mass I love with people from all around the world,” he said. “It’s exactly the same as it was 100 years ago, exactly the same as it is in St. Louis.”

World Youth Day pilgrims from Peru cheered as Pope Francis departed a welcoming ceremony and gathering with young people at Santa Maria la Antigua Field in Panama City Jan. 24.
Photo Credits: CNS/Jaclyn Lippelmann | Catholic Standard
PANAMA CITY — Although Mary would not be considered an “influencer,” like many social media personalities, she still became the most influential woman in history by trusting “in the love and promises of God, the only force capable of making all things new,” Pope Francis told young people at the World Youth Day prayer vigil Jan. 26.

“Are you willing to be an ‘influencer’ like Mary, who dared to say, ‘Let it be done?’” he asked. “Only love makes us more human and fulfilled; everything else is a pleasant but useless placebo.”

Despite sweltering temperatures in Panama City, hundreds of thousands of young men and women made their way to St. John Paul II Park on the penultimate day of World Youth Day. They brought sleeping bags and tents, prepared to spend the night at the field — praying the Rosary, making new friends — before celebrating Mass with Pope Francis at 8 a.m. Jan. 27. The pope did not spend the night, but returned later in the evening to the apostolic nunciature.

After the pope took his place on the stage, young adults from Panama and the Palestinian territories gave their experiences of finding faith and hope amid doubt, sickness and addiction.

Erika de Bucktron, a 42-year-old mother of four from Panama, spoke of the fear and difficulties she faced when doctors said her pregnancy was at high risk after diagnosing her unborn daughter with Down syndrome.

Throughout her pregnancy, she said, she and her husband abandoned themselves in God’s hands and, after the birth of their daughter, decided “to love her with all our hearts, without making any difference with our other children, who also welcomed her with so much love.”

Panamanian Alfredo Martinez Andrion, 20, recalled his experience of falling into a life of drugs and crime. His addiction, he said, ultimately led to a 12-month prison sentence. Despite attempts to reform following his release, he fell back again into drug use.

Ultimately, he found help at a Catholic-run halfway house that helped and encouraged him “in my path toward reintegration.”

“I want to tell the young people of the world that God loves us and never abandons us. We are the masters of our own actions, but if we are with God, everything will be OK,” Martinez said.

Nirmeen Odeh, a 26-year-old Palestinian woman, gave the final testimony of the evening, recalling that despite being born and raised in the Holy Land, she was apathetic to Christianity, especially coming “from a place where many of my simple rights are violated.”

“I thought it was better to be distant from Christianity so as not to be bothered by others,” Odeh said. “With all the struggles and weariness of daily life, I wasn’t interested in faith. However, I was curious about the idea of God! It fascinated me.”

After participating in World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, Odeh said she took a “leap of faith” and began receiving the sacraments.

After listening to their experiences, Pope Francis addressed the youths, saying that their experiences reflected the risk Mary took to say “yes” to God.

The salvation that God wishes to give His children, he said, isn’t a file in the cloud waiting to be downloaded or the latest app, but rather is an invitation to be “part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us.”

However, Christians can only obtain this salvation by placing their trust in God, especially in moments of uncertainty, doubt and trial.

Way of the Cross

The path walked by Jesus to His passion and death on the cross is the same path of indifference and marginalization taken by those who suffer in the world today, Pope Francis said.

Addressing young men and women participating in the Way of the Cross at World Youth Day in Panama Jan. 25, the pope said the road to Calvary is “a way of suffering and solitude” that is “prolonged in a society that has lost the ability to weep and to be moved by suffering.”

Jesus “walks and suffers in all those faces hurt by the complacent and anesthetizing indifference of our society that consumes and is consumed, that ignores and is ignorant, blind to the pain of our brothers and sisters,” he said.

While the youthful participants expressed their joy with cheers when Pope Francis arrived, prayerful silence overcame the thousands of young people gathered as the solemn celebration began. Groups of pilgrims from different countries took turns carrying the World Youth Day cross throughout the stage at every station. Each significant event of Jesus’ crucifixion was linked to a current theme or issue affecting young people, particularly in Latin America.

Next World Youth Day to be held in Portugal

By Junno Arocho Esteves | Catholic News Service

PANAMA CITY — Lisbon, Portugal, will open its doors to the world’s young people in 2022 for the next World Youth Day.

The announcement of Portugal was made by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, at the final Mass of World Youth Day Jan. 27. World Youth Day officials confirmed the year and city.

Upon hearing the location of the next celebration, Portuguese pilgrims erupted in cheers, waving their country’s flag and chanting “We are the pope’s youth!”

Pope Francis then greeted Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who attended the Mass.

In the early morning hours, pilgrims were awakened by sounds of upbeat music as the hot Panamanian sun rose. Despite the heat, the pilgrims danced and sang along, awaiting Pope Francis’ arrival.

In the homily, Pope Francis encouraged young Catholics to be engaged in the world today to ensure a better tomorrow.

“You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God. He invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you,” he said.

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