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.

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