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.

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