World Youth Day Panama, Day 8

I had to be up by 5am in order to be at our Carmelite Church by 6.00. The taxi came at 5.30 and I arrived at our place just before 6.00. I suppose there was a good reason why we needed to be there so early, though we didn’t actually do anything till 8 am. I was wearing my habit and felt part of the family. I met both the Generals, ours and the O’Carms; it was good to see them there; apart from one other we were the only Europeans there. My Spanish isn’t good but That didn’t stop me chatting to people as I ate breakfast which was given to us in a box. I spent quite a bit of time taking photos and using my camcorder, as I want to make a vocation’s video from this experience. At 8.00 we were ready to move off.

This was the 4th International Carmelite Youth Day. It was my first so I had no idea what to expect. About 500 of us started processing through the streets, reciting the rosary, which was being relayed from an amplifier travelling in a van ahead of us. At our rear a police car and two motorcyclists kept us safe. This was an extraordinary experience. It reminded me of the procession of Our Lady of Mt Carmel’s statue in Haifa, when the statue is carried from our parish in the town up the hill to our Stella Maris Monastery, only there thousands of people line the route.

We arrived at a hotel about one mile away. We climbed a lot of stairs before entering a huge hall where we spent the rest of the day. There were Carmelite youth and members of our Secular Order from all over Central America and most countries in Latin America. How

I envied having such youth. Different countries wore different tee shirts, with their individual Carmelite logos. There was lots of dancing and loud loud music. These kids were having fun. The live band was excellent. After a coffee break each nationality performed for us. The group from El Salvador did a drama, where a young girl gets tempted by a devil in black. The priest dressed in white tries to save her. It was powerful. Eventually the girl breaks free and there was a loud cheer. Then the group from Panama, led by a Carmelite friar, sang some folk songs. Most of the presentations were dance, the girls in their flowing colourful dresses and the men beside them with their hats on. It was all very colourful and lively. Then it was time for a long lunch.

No expense was spared. I wondered who was paying for this. The whole event was being very well organised. Fr Johnathan from Venezuela seemed to be the principal organiser. I met Fr Luis from Honduras, who’d met me in Glasgow many years ago. I also met Fr Rodrigo from Chile and Fr Cristobal from Nicaragua. After lunch there was still more music from the band and lots of dancing. Then the mood changed as we prepared for exposition of the blessed sacrament. Some of our Carmelites from Mexico sang songs as we venerated the blessed sacrament. It was all very reverential and prayerful. Then followed the mass at which about 25 priests concelebrated. Fr General presided, with The O.Carm General at his side.

It was all over by about 6 pm. What a day it had been, and what a privilege to have been there. Again I wished we could have such youth events in our part of the world. Maybe we can one day; mustn’t give up hope. I had hoped to go to Nicaragua. I would have had time to spend a couple of days there but things did not work out when I tried to book later. The young people from Nicaragua accompanied by Fr Cristobal left by coach later that evening. It would take them at least 24 hours. When I couldn’t get booked on the plane I thought I might go with them but even that didn’t work out. I knew the situation wasn’t good in that country but I wanted to show some solidarity. I would have liked to have met our Bishop Silvio Baez in Managua.

I thanked God for a wonderful experience. It was a shot in the arm for youth. I must try harder when I get back to England to do more for our own youth. Not sure how but maybe God will inspire me. I would love our youth to have had something of the experience I have had over this past week. I have seen humanity at its best, as it is meant to be, where there is so much faith, joy, openness and goodness. We need to spend more time on our youth, to share our faith with them, to show them that they are loved and lovable. We have work to do….

World Youth Day Panama, Day 8

I didn’t sleep much last night. I should have brought a sleeping bag as it got just a little cold, though you wouldn’t call it cold, but just enough to keep you awake. Got up at 5.00 by which time many were already stirring. Went to the toilets on the edge of the field, about 200 yards away. Went into the latrines as I did yesterday, only to find there were several women in it, no men. For a nanosecond I thought about it, then decided I’m not that liberal, so went off to find a cabin; there were many of them.

I said goodbye to some of the Westminster and Brentwood diocesan groups, the few who were awake, and headed off to section ‘T1″, which was for the priests who were to conconcelebrate. I got to the entrance only to find a line of priests already there. I thought we’d be there for ages: someone had said ‘we’ll be kept here till the Pope arrives’. Fortunately we weren’t and after a good period of time, I was too asleep to notice how long, we were let in. We clergy were sent from pillar to post, find where we should be. Most priests took it in good humour. Some were charging through, jumping queues, in order to get the best seats. That was annoying. Then eventually when we got our seats they decided to give out chasubles. This led to another unseemly crush as we all rushed forward like shoppers at a Harrods Sale. God knows why we had to wear chasubles. It’s not as if we were on the stage, for the world to see, we were on ground level just in front of it, and the temperature was climbing up to the mid 30’s.

Then it was a matter of waiting. However, once you got your seat waiting didn’t matter so much. Once again we were entertained from the stage with lots of sound south american music, not that the clergy were doing the samba. I chatted to my neighbour, a filipino priest, now working in the USA. Fr Luke (East Anglican Diocese) was a row ahead of me, without a chasuble: they had run out. I gave him mine afterwards (they give them away after the mass), he was delighted. All I was thinking of was not having to carry extra weight in my small rucksack. Met Fr Peter Kovacs from Leeds University; tried to invite myself along to his chaplaincy. I think I spotted Fr Michael, a remarkable 85 year old. He has come to every WYD since the beginning. He told me the young people from his diocese, East Anglia, see him as a kind of mascot. It can’t be easy for him as the distances to walk would tax a young person. I don’t know how many priests there were, in all there must have been a thousand. Many more had got onto the stage; they’re the ones who pushed past me!

The Pope arrived and began mass. It was 8 am, so it would be over before it got too hot. Before the Pope arrived the President of Panama came with his huge entourage, and I believe two or three other heads State. It was interesting to watch them arrive with their elegant wives. There were lots of body guards. I mean lots. I saw the British Ambassador; he sat with the other diplomats. It was the last time we would see the Pope and listen to his words of wisdom. He encouraged the youngsters to take the message of world youth day to others; to be like Mary: to say “yes” to God.

We all waited somewhat excitedly at the end of the mass to see which country would host WYD next year: it was Portugal.Big cheers went up, especially from the Portugues who were there. There had been about 700,000 young people, which was the smallest of all the gatherings. It was still only about 11am and Fr Dominic and I met up with the East Anglia group. We then proceeded to walk the 7-8 kms to the metro. We had to stop a couple of times for one of the group who wasn’t feeling well. Eventually the group stopped and went no further. They stopped and phoned for an Uber taxi. God knows when it would arrive as the small roads were gridlocked. I headed off by myself to the metro.

The journey back on the metro was quiet. Everyone was clearly exhausted, emotionally and physically. No shouting or chanting, no singing or banner waving. We all poured out at our stop. I went into the mall and had myself a meal: the kind of fast-food, chicken and chips, that I would normally run a mile from. I felt a lot better afterwards. Caught the, by now, familiar bus, B850, that dropped me off 400 yards from our apartment block.

My evening finished with the best meal I’ve had since I arrived here. It was expensive: $80 for two of us: two courses with drinks, lots of… So that was WYD over for another couple of years. Fr Peter Kovacs said many priests only come once, they couldn’t cope with the physical discomforts of the event. For me the advantages, the blessings, far out weighed the disadvantages. And I certainly will come again, especially if I am vocation’s director in 2 years time

WYD is testimony to what young people can be like; it is young people at their best: full of energy, fun, enthusiasm and faith. You see humanity at its best. We have a lot of work to do, we priests and older people, to make our youth feel less invisible, to make them feel not only welcome in our churches but important and helpful. We need to give them responsibility. there is a lot of work to be done. they Synod of Bishops on Youth will help, as will the Pope’s encyclical on the same topic when it comes to be written later this year. I shall remember for a long time the goodness of the Panamanian people and how they made us feel so welcome. We kept thanking them as we made our way home: the locals, the police, the soldiers, everyone: ‘Thank you Panama”.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have writing it. There is just one more major event before I take some time off, that is tomorrow when we Carmelites have an International Day for Carmelite Youth: looking forward to that. God bless.

World Youth Day, Panama, Day 7

This was going to be the big day. I was told this by those who have been on several World Youth Days. Oddly though Sr Teresa told me she may not go because of bad memories from Cracow, where the last WYD took place. Then everyone had to walk very long distances, she was not wearing sensible shoes and suffered from blisters. Also there was not enough food to eat, people were hungry and she ended up on her own. I left her early this morning at the mall, which has now become familiar, so not sure what she decided. 

I first visited the Carmelite church, in part to ask where I could pick up my food ration. I was now wearing my Carmelite habit, in spite of the heat. I was told to pick up the food from a mall nearer to the park where the Vigil was to take place. Was I pleased with that advice, as the packs were heavy and the walk long.

On my way to the metro a lady called me to give her son a blessing, as he had some kind of mental problem. So I did, in my appalling Spanish. I got on the metro, line one. The idea was to go to line two: this was due to open for this event, I presume, but it’s not finished. However, some of the stations are open. I travelled with everyone else to the nearest station. I must say the metro is efficient, fast, clean and modern, also there’s air conditioning which is such a welcome relief after the sun.

Having arrived at our metro stop we now faced a walk of seven or eight kms. Here we saw the Panama people at their best; they’d already impressed me before now. The locals sat in chairs to greet us as we passed by. It reminded me of the muslims families in Jerusalem who’d do the same as we processed on Palm Sunday. Some of the families offered us water, other sprayed us with water from their garden hoses. A world of young people was passing their doors and they were making them welcome. Later the fire brigade turned their hoses on the crowd; the kids loved it.  I’d travelled on my own. I’d been given a good ticket right in front of the huge stage. First I had to wait. You have to do a lot of that here. Eventually we were let through to our white plastic seats. Then we waited hours for the Pope to arrive. I wasn’t bored. You couldn’t be with all the music, much of it latin, so great rhythm. I love to watch the kids dancing; there was so much joy. I met up with some of our youth from the Westminster group. A camera kept spanning the crowd. When people saw them themselves on the big screens they were so happy. You’ve never  seen so much flag waving. 

Eventually the Pope arrived. The mood changed, became more serious. The Pope’s voice is monotonous, it’s what he says that’s so gripping. Like JPII he has a good report with the young people. He can get them to repeat things after him or shout louder, when he says “I can’t hear you”. He gives them hope. And though he’s 50-60 years older than most of them he speaks their language. I saw the girl beside me from Costa Rica, shed a tear. 

The paraliturgy of dance, music and testimony was poignant and moving. They touched on the problems that so many young people face today and not just in South America. The Pope said that young people can feel insignificant as if they are invisible. But then he speaks words of hope and they nod and cheer and some cry silently. How wonderful it is to be here. 

Then it was all over. The Pope went away. I decided to stay overnight with the youth from GB. If Bishop Alan Williams from Brentwood can do it so can I. I was amazed at how quickly some had chosen to sleep. It was only 8.30 pm. How could they sleep with all the loud thumping music, and people laughing and talking around them? The music went on till about 10.00. Then we said the rosary while the statue of our Lady of Fatima went slowly around the park. It must have been 11.30 when all went quiet…well apart from the snoring and I managed to shut my eyes.

Until tomorrow. God bless.

World Youth Day Panama, Day 6

Up nice and early this morning and set off for the centre of town with Teresa Cavalho, who works for the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales. It’s a thirty minute journey by taxi. She had a meeting with the Bishops of England and Wales, which I didn’t want to crash. Our Bishops are not staying there; it must be one of the most expensive hotels in Panama. Another national episcopal conference is staying there,  won’t reveal which one, but I don’t think Pope Francis would approve, I’m not sure Jesus Christ would approve for that matter.

I then proceeded to the place where we were to have catechesis and it was there that I had my breakfast; it only cost $4.50. The catechetical centre was the same place we had been for the last three days: San Francis de Calcida Parish. Today I went to the back of the field in order to hear confessions. Once again my heart melted at the goodness, honesty and sincerity of these young people. I stayed hearing confessions during mass, thus breaking one of my rules, which is not to hear confessions while mass is going on. However, I thought this was an extra ordinary situation.

The catechesis and mass finished at about 12.00. Then a group of us from the Westminster Diocese went off to a supermarket where we ordered our lunch. We have in a voucher and got the lunch free, Well it was not actually free as we all paid something to World Youth Day before we left to cover such things as meals and the kit. On our way there a taxi driver saw Fr Mark: Mark is wearing clerical dress: black shirt and collar, I have a clerical collar but wearing a blue world youth day teeshirt over my clerical shirt. I asked Mark if he’d ever blessed a taxi-driver before. He smiled and said, not while he was driving a car. Faith is real here.

From the supermarket we got a bus to as near as we could to the venue where we were going to have the Stations of the Cross with the Pope. We arrived at about 2.30 so had four hours to wait in the blazing sunshine. Our group decided to remain in the sun while most others sought the shade; there’s something coming to mind about “only mad dogs and englishmen go out in the midday sun.” I’m going to have a hard time convincing my fellow friars that I have been working hard when I go back with a suntan!

We were entertained on video screens from the distant stage while we waited and waited, in the blistering sun. The temperature was 33 C but felt like 38 C. It was relaxing to sit and wait, if a little hot. We watched as some young lads played football in what seemed like a dry paddling pool. Others danced to the samba music. I thought this wasn’t really conducive to preparing for Stations of the Cross, but what else do you do?

Eventually the Pope arrived. This time no drive past. And we were straight into the service. It was different to any stations of the Cross I’d done before. The first station: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane; the second: Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested; the third: Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin. It was also different in its format; there was the traditional prayer: ‘We adore you O Christ and we praise you’ that was followed by a quote from Pope Francis, then a reflection, followed by a prayer and then lastly the familiar words, ‘I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to you word’; which is the theme of World Youth Day. The words were accompanied by music and dance: about 20 dancers, men and women, all dressed in white. The overall effect: music, dance and words was quite dramatic. then the cross was carried from one different part of the huge double tiered stage to another, each time, 14 times, by representatives of different countries. The last was Panama, which got a great cheer. I was touched when I noticed that they kept Nicaragua till the one before Panama.

I was moved by the whole experience, it was powerful. Pope Francis spoke at the end, with words of encouragement to the young. We shall see him again tomorrow night at the Vigil. Only it will be in a different part of town, 15 kms away, on foot.

Leaving the place wasn’t easy. As soon as people saw the Union Jack many came up and wanted photos, or to exchanges medals of cards or wrist bands. I have so much on my wrist now I’m beginning to look like a hippy. But it’s all part of the wonderful experience that is World Youth Day. Last night I walked home but that created a little blister so tonight I took the metro and a bus back to our place. But everywhere we travelled there were lots of young pilgrims. I shall not forget this experience in a hurry. Until tomorrow. God bless.

World Youth Day Panama, Day 5

Felt better when I got up this morning. I didn’t want to be ill when the Pope was coming. Sr Eileen and I went to the same parish we went to yesterday. Today it was the turn of the English bishops, in particular the Bishop of East Anglia, Alan Williams. He has a nice engaging style. He spoke a lot about Our Lady of Walsingham, and even had quite a large statue brought from England which was then placed on the altar: he reminded us that this is what Pope, Saint John Paul II did when he came to England; he had our lady of Walsingham’s statue placed on the altar at Wembley; I remember it well 29th May 1982: I was there.

After the Bishop’s catechesis there was a question and answer session. Like yesterday the questions were excellent. We then had a break before beginning mass. Again the sun beat down on us. I sat next to a young australian priest, a dominican, from Sydney, called James. After the mass we had a photo of all the young pilgrims from the GB. When we are all together like this, about 200, we are a big group. People stop us to have photos taken; they seem to like the union jack flag. From there a group from the East Anglia diocese and I took a taxi to where we were going to meet the Pope. First we had a meal; there were nine of us. I had got to know the group leader, Hamish, in Rome last year. Meal over it was now time to make our way to the park where the Pope would greet the young people.

Today the security was tight, so getting into the park took a long time. I didn’t have a ticket for this event, but hoped the security would let me through as I was a priest. In the end they didn’t check our tickets, just whatever we were carrying. We were a long way from the stage, at least half a mile, so we satisfied ourselves to watch in all on one of the giant videos. The Pope arrived in his pope-mobile to the cheers of the young people; he sped along, not stopping, as he normally did in St Peter’s Square.  No doubt the Panamanian security didn’t want him to stop or even slow down. When he had gone by I turned around and saw a young girl wiping the tears from her eyes. I squeezed her hand.

It seemed to take ages before the Pope spoke, as there were many introductions and music. . When he did speak he lifted up the crowd of young people, who cheered him. He has a way of communicating with people that is so easy to follow. I didn’t really understand what he was saying, just some bits, but afterwards I read a transcript in english that someone had taken down from the radio. He spoke about having a dream. That Christ loves us. That love is so positive. he told us to build bridges not walls; those who build bridges cause divisions. those who build walls offer hope. I wonder who he had in mind! He spoke about the devil, as he often does. A figure of discouragement, unlike Christ. He told the young people to have a dream.

It was quite short. We shall hear him again over the next couple of days. The group from East Anglia had carried the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham with them. At one point we met someone carrying the statue of our Lady patron of Mexico, another photo. People were stopping us wanting photos, wanting to exchange tokens: medals, wrist bands, cards ribbons…  No one was in a hurry to leave, even after the Pope had swept past.  I lost count of the number of group photos we had taken.  In spite of all the noise, the music continuing on the stage, the crowds of people leaving, the group insisted on saying evening-prayer. then we made our way out. I said my goodbyes as I was going in the opposite direction.

There were no taxis or buses available as the place was shut down. After my two and a half hours taxi ride yesterday I was happy to walk. It took me about 75 minutes to get back to the apartment; I was pleased that I didn’t get lost. Tomorrow we have stations of the cross with the Pope; that should be special. I’ll sign off for now; Feeling so much better than I did last night. God bless.

World Youth Day Panama, Day 4

Our day began at 7.00 having breakfast with the Birmingham group in their hotel, ‘Ariana Granada’. Once again I was struck by the young people I met. On my table there was Manny, Naive and Sr Therese: the latter an american nun from the Franciscans of the Renewal Congregation, now based in Middlesborough.  We talked about our faith. I am here as vocations’ director. I saw in Manny and Naive two people who would make excellent religious, but who knows what God has in mind for them; it will probably be marriage. I am hoping that someone from this 300 strong group from England will have a vocation to us. We shall see; it’s all in God’s hands.

From there we made our way to the place for the catechesis. We waited for a bus but in the end some of us decided we would walk the 35 minutes. On the way we saw a cafe, outside there was a water container. We stopped and had a refreshing drink. then the people from the cafe came out and greeted us. We exchanged photos, this happens all the time. Once again I was struck by the kindness of the Panama people.

The place of the catechesis was in a Shoenstatt parish. The Archbishop of Dallas had already started. There must have been five, six hundred people there from America, Australia and GB. I sat on the ground infront of the stage. It was all out in the open, in the sunshine. Afterwards we celebrated mass. I then had to get to the park of reconciliation; the place I’d been to yesterday. When I asked one of the volunteers the best way of getting there, she said she would take me. Yet another example of this peoples’ kindness.

I managed to lose my little union jack flag somewhere; to be honest I was surprised I’d not lost it before. At the park of reconciliation I met a Discalced Carmelite and two nuns from Venezuela. It was interesting to talk to them about life in Venezuela today. Confessions, once again were a wonderful experience. I never feel more like a priest than when I am hearing confession. I started at 1.00 and finished at 4.00. In the end I was really tired, due in great part to being in the sun for so long; I didn’t realise the tiring effect the sun can have on you.

The next event I had to get to was a meeting with the British Consulate at the Radisson hotel with individual members from the UK. In the end I never managed to get there. Feeling tired I decided to risk a taxi ride: we had been warned by the Embassy not to take yellow cabs. I checked the fare and it was reasonable. What I didn’t realise and nor did the driver was the roundabout route we had to take because all roads in the city centre were closed. So we had to take a very long detour. But then at a certain point near the airport we had to stop. The Pope was arriving. We waited there for an hour. So a journey that should have taken 30 minutes ended up taking two and a half hours!  And then, just to make matters worse the driver took me to the wrong Radisson hotel! I am surprised how lacking in knowledge these drivers are of their city.  I’d decided I’d had enough. I went straight back to the apartment, by now $60.00 worse off.

When I got back I made myself a cup of herbal tea to try to settle my stomach, which had been feeling queasy all day long: it must have been the chinese I had last night with Sr Elaine. I wanted to charge my phone only to realise that I had lost it! These things are sent to test us. I fell into bed, didn’t have the will to brush my teeth.

So the Pope is here, and I shall see him soon. Looking forward to that. Looking forward to listening to what he has to say. I am sure he will base much of what he says on the recent Synod of Bishops which was based on Youth, Faith and Vocation. Until tomorrow. God bless.

World Youth Day Panama, Day 3

Up early this morning to have breakfast at the hotel where the Birmingham diocesan group is staying. We were joined by the British Consul and local assistant to the Ambassador. Once again I was impressed by the enthusiasm and liveliness of the young people.  Afterwards I made my way to the place of reconciliation. In the metro there were crowds of young people singing and cheering, waving their national flags. It was like at a football game except there wasn’t the competition and aggression. On the contrary, there was fun and laughter. i don’t know who were the loudest the Brazilians, Mexicans or Argentinians. We British are so reserved by comparison. I had a little union jack; so small compared to the others.

On my way to the centre I fell in with a Brazilian crowd; this is what you do: you talk to everyone and anyone. The local people tooted their horns in recognition as we passed by in our hundreds, flags waving, drums beating, causing chaos crossing the roads; but no one loses their temper. I talked with Sr Cecelia from Brazil a member of a brand new congregation. How fascinating to listen to her story.  There must have been a hundred confessionals all spread out within the space of a football field. It was so hot. I put my alb on to save my arms from sunburn. Confession as always was a wonderful experience.

I then wandered into the nearby vocation’s tent. It was packed with young people. At one end was a stage with music; nothing is quiet and meditative here. Not that I mind; when in Rome, as they say…. I’m picking up badges which people are happy to give me. Some people have chestfuls.  Then lunch. I sat down with my back to a wall. the man sitting beside me turned out to be a priest from Rumania, who has been working in Cuba for the last three years. How interesting. Then it was off to the big evening event: the opening mass presided by the Archbishop of Panama. I could see the Cardinal Archbishop of Nicaragua beside him. I met some of the 15,000 pilgrims from Nicaragua. Bishop Silvio Baez is amongst them; I hope I get to meet him. I suspect i’m going to be emotional when I meet him; I have so much admiration for what he is doing.

The mass started off badly. We were far from the altar and though there were video screens they were not enough of them and you couldn’t hear a thing. People used radios to listen in. Eventually, after the homily someone turned the sound on for us near the back. I sat on a lawn with a group from Middlesborough diocese. Next to us was a Brazilian group and a large group from Australia. We all shared greetings at the beginning. there is so much joy and kindness here, it does the spirit good; this is humanity at its best. It was dark by the time the mass was over.

Sr Eileen and I made our way back through the river of people all leaving at the same time. We stopped off in a cafe for something to eat and drink. When we were told they didn’t have beer the waitress took us to a place where we could eat and have a beer. This kindness and courtesy was not a one off but rather typical of the Panamanian people. Elaine and I reckoned we deserved the beer.

So tomorrow I have to get up early again, this time to have breakfast with the Westminster diocesan group. then we have catechesis. After which I will return to the reconciliation park. Then in the evening Stations of the Cross. The Pope arrives on Thursday. Much to look forward to. God bless.

World Youth Day Panama Day Two

Today was special. When I woke up I could see the Bridge of the Americas was full of traffic streaming into Panama City, from Colombia and beyond.  Sr Elaine and I went out to the central bus station where we crossed the road to enter a huge mall. There we soon met lots of young pilgrims, mainly from South and Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. It was such a joy to meet these young enthusiastic people. We exchanged greetings and asked about each others countries, swopped photos. Sr Elaine and I were struck by their general exuberance. We had fun together. I have a little spanish which helps, but you can communicate even without knowing the language.

After that we travelled on the metro to its furthest point. Nothing much to see except more shopping malls and a Bahai Temple. I was struck yet again by the peoples’ willingness to help us. When we were looking at a map of the metro a young man asked us if we needed help. These are such good people. We got back on the metro into central Panama, to the hotel where the Westminster and other diocesan groups are staying. After a wait we met Bishop Nicholas Hudson and the others; about 20 of them. We celebrated mass together in one of the small dining rooms. Afterwards I had a chance to meet the young people from the Westminster group. What lovely people they are. We played pool and had fun. I am looking forward to getting to know them better.

Then it was time for dinner. We were joined by Bishop Hudson and Bishop Terry Drainey (Middlesborough Diocese) and Bishop Alan Williams ( East Anglia). It was a pleasant time and an opportunity to get to know the bishops better. Bishop Alan told me he plans to sleep out after the vigil on Saturday. When he tried to to this at the last WYD in Cracow,Poland, the security had a problem with this; they didn’t expect bishops to sleep out. I too intend to sleep out after the vigil, which I am looking forward to. those who have been to more than one WYD say its the best event.

As I write this on my balcony i can see and hear the heavy traffic on the Bridge of the Americas. It’s a balmy evening, with a soft breeze. How lucky I am to be here. I am looking forward to tomorrow when we begin early joining the British Ambassador for breakfast with the Birmingham archdiocesan group. Then later I am going to hear confessions in a park. In the evening there will be the opening event presided by the Archbishop of Panama.The Pope arrives the following day: Thursday.

I have heard from Bishop Silvio Baez in Nicaragua. He is coming here and hopes to meet me; I certainly hope to meet him. I admire this man’s faith and courage; inspite of many threats, in spite of being called an enemy of the people, he still preaches the gospel message of justice and peace. He has become the symbol of resistance for the people of Nicaragua. His life is in great danger. He knows what happened to Archbishop now Saint, Oscar Romero in neighbouring El Salvador could happen to him.Yet he refuses to be cowed. I am so proud of him.

So that’s all for now. I have an early start so need all the sleep I can get. god bless.

World Youth Day: Sunday

Of Course, World Youth Day is a misnomer; it’s more like World Youth Week. It all kicks off on Tuesday and finishes on Sunday. Today was special. I went to a church in the city where there was a mass in English. It turned out there were several different nationalities: New Zealanders, Irish, Latvians, Brazilians and the Panamanians. There were two bishops, one from NZ the other from Latvia and about 15 concelebrants.  It was a real celebration of worship coloured by different national hymns and even dance. It was noisy by our british standards, and late starting; but you soon get used to that here. After the mass, attended by several hundred people, there was a delicious meal for all. As I sat down to enjoy my meal, chatting to who ever was nearest, the young men and one lady played football. There were three brazilian priests who had brought along a number of youngsters caught up in drugs and crime. How I admired this hands on christianity. There was so much energy at this event; joy and happiness: it was good to be together.

Learned yesterday that Bishop Silvio Baez will be coming from Nicaragua. He is a leading light for peace and justice in his troubled country, a figure not dissimilar to Archbishop Oscar Romero, now a Saint. He is so courageous, speaking out against the atrocities of the government. I hope to meet him when he comes.

I knew I wasn’t in London when I got up the first morning, looked out my window and all I could see were palm trees and other luxurious trees and plants. A swallow flew past, then what I thought was an eagle, but later learned was a vulture. The weather is hot and humid. I can see the famous canal, and the occasional ship passing by. Panama is very different from London. It is quite small, but easy to get around once you’ve worked out the public transport; the metro is excellent.

I’ve arrived early with the team leaders representing the bishops of England and Wales. Four bishops are coming and about eight priests, we are expecting about 300 young people from the UK. We shall all meet up soon. As part of the preparation we met the British Ambassador at his residence, where we had afternoon tea. Afterwards I visited the park where the sacrament of reconciliation will be held. I shall be helping at this. By now I have a fair idea of the city and can get around quite confidently, thanks in great part to ‘google maps’. I picked up my kit last Friday; everyone got a bag full of goodies, including a colour coded teeshirt, a rosary (made in Bethlehem) and some books. I also got passes that everyone who attends the Vigil and the Papal mass next Sunday will need. So now I am ready.

This is my first WYD. I am so looking forward to meeting all the young people, about 300 are expected. I’m also looking forward to hearing the Pope. It is going to be a very special experience and one that is going to leave quite an  impression. It is 9.30 at night as I write this but it is still warm. I smile when I think of how lucky I am, with the weather so cold back in London. I will try to write a blog each day; this is my first.