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.

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