During World Youth Day Panama 2019, Catholic New York spoke with pilgrims from various countries, including faithful people interviewed at Tocumen International Airport and inside a McDonald’s on Vía España in Panama City. Here are some of the reflections they shared:
Sister Luisa Teresa Garcia, 64, F.M.M, a Colombian nun on mission in Cuba: Speaking in her native Spanish, Sister Luisa Teresa said, “The words of the pope encourage us to live our faith with joy, with enthusiasm—and to not be afraid. He speaks these words to the young, to all of us—to help us know Jesus more.” Sister Luisa Teresa’s religious order is Franciscanas Misioneras de María Auxiliadora.
Father Ferdinand Mushagalusa, 57, C.R.S.P., a priest from the Democratic Republic of Congo on mission in Belgium: Struggling a bit with his English, the priest said, “This moment with the pope, it is a moment that is very important. All persons must make Jesus the center of their lives. When Jesus is at the center of our lives, all things must be well.” Father Mushagalusa was with a WYD pilgrimage group from the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels. He is with the Barnabites religious order, headquartered in Rome.
Bernadette Salga, 25, and her sister, Christina, 23, of the Diocese of Meaux, France: “For me, the words of the pope are very important because he knows how to speak to young people. His is a message of love and of hope. He energizes me to live with my Church,” Bernadette said. Her sister added that Pope Francis had “a message of faith, and a message of joy and hope for young people—and a very good message of peace for the young, and for older people.”
Maria Sanchez, 22, a WYD volunteer born and raised in Panama: “I feel very privileged and blessed to be here, to be part of this,” she said toward the end of the Jan. 26 vigil ceremony. “This is the first visit to Panama by Pope Francis, and the second visit to Panama by a pope (St. Pope John Paul II was the first in March 1983).”
Joo Hyum Lee, 28, from the Archdiocese of Seoul, South Korea, who was a volunteer with pilgrimage groups from the Asian nation: “I feel a warm welcoming here in Panama, very friendly.” He noted the pope’s message about young people being the present of the Church “was a very, very good message in his homily…Since I was a child, the Church has helped me make good choices for my life.”
Rose Clottey, 30, a pilgrim from the Archdiocese of New York, is a parishioner of St. Luke’s in the Bronx: “This is my third one. I went to World Youth Day in Madrid (2011) and I went to Poland (2016)…This week has been amazing. It’s been a very rewarding pilgrimage.”
Stephanie Boadu, 27, a fellow pilgrim from New York and parishioner of St. Luke: “My faith has been a huge part of my life, and for my family; it guides me, especially during tough times. This is my second World Youth Day. I was in Poland…Panama has been great—the locals have been very welcoming. They cheer you on; they make you feel really proud to be Catholic. I like the theme for this year—I am the servant of the Lord.”
Diane Botta, 30, a parishioner at the Basilica of Regina Pacis in Brooklyn, who traveled to Panama with the group from Archdiocese of New York through friendships with some of those pilgrims: “It’s like a once in a lifetime experience. It’s hard to find other young Catholics to share that community with, sometimes. Being in an environment with so many different people sharing the same values can be very strengthening…It’s been hot, it’s been crowded – but it’s been very moving. I think the Way of the Cross last night (Jan. 25) was very touching.”
Juliemarie Hernandez, 20, of St. Anthony of Padua parish in the Bronx: “Participating in World Youth Day here, it’s a new beginning. Like the sacraments, each time it’s a new beginning to a new way of life. And being on this pilgrimage, it’s an opening to a new way of life. I’m a youth minister myself…We’ve seen him (Pope Francis) twice, up close when he was passing by (in the popemobile). It was really cool, very exciting.”
Brother Tyrone A. Davis, C.F.C., executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry: “The young people were in great spirits, really enthusiastic about the whole experience, about meeting up with other young adults from around the world,” Brother Tyrone said Jan. 26 at Hotel El Panama.
“I arrived Thursday. Our young people arrived Monday. And they were prepared to offer each other gifts. Our young people prepared special wristbands to exchange.”