World Youth Day 2019 opened Jan. 22 in Panama City, Panama. Over 150,000 registered for the event, which ran until Jan. 27. This year's event conflicted with the American school year. As a result, the Diocese of Buffalo did not plan a pilgrimage to the Central American city.
With the theme, "I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word," (Lk 1:38), the 34th World Youth Day saw people from 155 countries come to visit nearly two dozen churches and cathedrals, as well as the historic Panama Canal.
St. John Paul II conceived of World Youth Day after conducting two successful international gatherings with young people in Rome in 1984 and 1985. The event is celebrated annually on the diocesan level, with international celebrations taking place every two or three years. Through pilgrimage, catechesis session and meeting others from the global Church, young Catholics broaden their spiritual lives.
Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, OSA, of Panama, welcomed the pilgrims during the opening ceremonies.
"Our joy is immense in the presence of all of you," he said. "Panama today receives you with open hearts and arms. Thank you for accepting the call to meet us in this small country, in which faith came from the hand of the Virgin Mary, under the invocation of Santa Maria la Antigua. A country that has done its best so that each of you has an encounter with Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
The Archdiocese of Panama, founded in 1514 as the Diocese of Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien, is thought to be the oldest Catholic diocese in the world.
World Youth Day is celebrated to honor and show trust in the young Church, encourage Catholics to make a pilgrimage as early Christians did, and to encounter the larger Catholic community. The sitting pope has always celebrated the closing Sunday Mass, usually held in a large field or park that is open to the public. An estimated 5 million people attended the closing Mass in Manila in 1995. This year less than 700,000 joined together in Panama's Metropolitan Natural Park, dubbed Campo San Juan Pablo II for the day, to hear the Holy Father tell young people to seize the day and not wait to live their Christian lives.
"'The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them: 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing' (Lk 4:20-21)," Pope Francis said Sunday morning.
"With these words, the Gospel presents the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. It started in the synagogue that saw him grow up; he was in the midst of neighbors and people he knew, and perhaps even some of his childhood 'catechists' who had taught him the Law. It was an important moment in the life of the Master: the child who was educated and grew up in that community, stood up and took the floor to proclaim and put into action God's dream. A word previously proclaimed only as a future promise, but now, on the lips of Jesus alone, could be spoken in the present tense, as it became a reality: 'Today it has been fulfilled.'
"Jesus reveals the now of God, who comes to meet us and call us to take part in his now of 'proclaiming good news to the poor ... bringing liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, setting at liberty those who are oppressed, announcing the year of the Lord's favor' (Lk 4:18-19). This is the now of God. It becomes present with Jesus: it has a face, it is flesh. It is a merciful love that does not wait for ideal or perfect situations to show itself, nor does it accept excuses for its appearance. It is God's time that makes every situation and place both right and proper. In Jesus, the promised future begins and becomes life.
"When? Now. Yet not everyone who was listening felt invited or called. Not all the residents of Nazareth were prepared to believe in someone they knew and had seen grow up, and who was now inviting them to realize a long-awaited dream. Not only that, but 'they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?'" (Lk 4:22).
"The same thing can also happen with us. We do not always believe that God can be that concrete and commonplace, that close and real, and much less that he can become so present and work through somebody like a neighbor, a friend, a relative. We do not always believe that the Lord can invite us to work and soil our hands with him in his Kingdom in that simple and blunt a way. It is hard to accept that 'God's love can become concrete and can almost be experienced in history with all its painful and glorious vicissitudes' (Benedict XVI, General Audience, Sept. 28, 2005).
"Often we too behave like the neighbors in Nazareth: we prefer a distant God: nice, good, generous, but far-off, a God who does not inconvenience us. Because a close and everyday God, a friend and brother, demands that we be concerned with our surroundings, everyday affairs and above all fraternity. God chose not to reveal himself as an angel or in some spectacular way, but to give us a face that is fraternal and friendly, concrete and familiar. God is real because love is real; God is concrete because love is concrete. Indeed, this 'concrete manifestation of love is one of the essential elements in the life of Christians' (Benedict XVI, Homily, March 1, 2006)."
The pope said that during a recent synod he had the opportunity to have an intergenerational dialogue. He realized the need for one another and that the Church needs to encourage dreaming of and working for tomorrow, starting today.
"You, dear young people, are not the future, but the now of God," he told the crowd. "He invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you."
World Youth Day 2022 will take place in Lisbon, Portugal.