Pope reinvigorates faith of young people in Latin America

This past week, World Youth Day took place in Panama City, from Tuesday, Jan. 22 to Sunday, Jan. 27. Referred to as the largest regular Catholic gathering in the world, young pilgrims attended from a vast number of nations to receive encouragement in the faith and gain a restored confidence in their ability to participate in the life of the Church. Pope Francis was present from Thursday through Sunday, saying Mass and leading adoration, and bringing a message of renewing hope and a call to mission to the young people present.

World Youth Day 2019 was the continuation of a well-established tradition begun by Pope St. John Paul II in the 1980s and continued throughout the papacies of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Taking place every three years at various cities throughout the world, World Youth Day’s previous locations include Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Manila in the Philippines, and Sydney in Australia. Hallmarks of each World Youth Day are the number of international attendees, making it a living reflection of the universality of the Church, and the presence of the Holy Father, who celebrates Mass and exhorts the young pilgrims to live more fully for Christ.

With well over 600,000 estimates attendees, and 22,000 volunteers, World Youth Day Panama continued the precedent of enormous numbers. According to one press release, 480 bishops registered to attend, with 380 of them providing catechesis in 25 languages during the event. The availability of the Sacraments and of such catechesis reflects the ultimate goal of World Youth Day, which is not simply to provide an international trip to young students but rather to orient them around the faith. The importance of this to World Youth Day is reflected in the theme of each event, with this year’s World Youth Day focusing on Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel in the Annunciation: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

The Pope shared many reflections in various speeches and homilies, focusing particularly on the call of Christ to serve Him by serving those around us, and having our hope renewed. As the Pope spoke to the 600,000 people gathered for the evening of adoration, he exhorted them, “Face to face with [Jesus], don’t be afraid to open your heart to him and to ask him to renew the fire of his love, so that you can embrace life with all its frailty and flaws, but also with its grandeur and beauty…Do not be afraid to tell him that you too want to be a part of his love story in this world, that you are ready for something greater!” Pope Francis re-echoed this call to mission in his homily during the closing Mass: “[Christ] is concrete, close, real love…Brothers and sisters, the Lord and his mission are not a ‘meantime’ in our life, something temporary; they are our life!”

One initiative of Pope Francis’s was to give each pilgrim to World Youth Day a rosary from the Holy Land, which can be worn as bracelets. The wood for the beads came from olive trees on the West Bank, and each rosary was made in Bethlehem. The cross on each Rosary has “Bethlehem” written on one side and “JMJ2019” on the other. (JMJ stands for Jornada Mundial de Juventud, which is World Youth Day in Spanish). During the closing Mass, Pope Francis asked the young people to raise their rosaries in the air and commit to praying for peace in the world, another ongoing request of Pope Francis’s throughout World Youth Day 2019. A press release from the event quoted one of the workers who helped create the rosaries, saying, “When I think that these olive wood rosaries of Bethlehem will be in a million homes around the world, I thank God that I am so lucky to be working on this project.”

This World Youth Day provided a time of great encouragement for many young people, especially during a time of significant struggles for the Church, challenging them to live fully for Christ. In his final exhortation via his Twitter, Pope Francis exhorted youth to “go forth and bear witness to what you have seen and heard, not with lots of words but with simple, daily actions… #Panama2019.”

Therese Benz is a senior studying English and Pre-Med, with a minor in Theology. Her favorite book is probably The Lord of the Rings, and if you are a fellow LOTR enthusiast, she would love to hear from you at tbenz@nd.edu.