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.

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