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….

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