Jesus is a God of now, Pope Francis told a crowd of more than 600,000 young people at World Youth Day in Panama.
“For Jesus, there is no ‘meantime,’ but only a merciful love that wants to enter into and win over our hearts,” the Pope said at the closing Mass Jan. 27, winding up a week of reflection, renewal and celebration for pilgrims from around the globe who descended on Panama City.
“May your ‘yes’ continue to be the gateway for the Holy Spirit to give us a new Pentecost for the world and for the Church.”
Twenty-six-year-old Grace Lam said she is ready to say her own “yes” to the mission that waits for her in her home community of Markham, Ont. This was Lam’s first experience of World Youth Day and she said it has inspired her to ignite her faith with a new passion which she is eager to share with her friends.
“To people in Canada, take a leap of faith and attend (WYD) if you feel the call,” said Lam, who was part of a small pilgrim group from St. Justin Martyr Parish. “Pray and find a group and let God show you his love in ways beyond your imagination.”
WYD officially began Jan. 22, but kicked into high gear with the arrival of Pope Francis on Jan. 24. Under a hot sun, flags and pilgrims of all nations greeted him as he made his way through crowds at each event in the popemobile. He led the youth at a WYD prayer service, the Way of the Cross on Jan. 25 and the evening vigil the next day. He also met with church and civic leaders, heard confessions, visited a hospice, and said Mass at a juvenile detention centre.
“You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God,” he said in his homily at the closing Mass. “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.”
Lam said in her days at WYD, God spoke to her heart in a way that she had never experienced before. During the Way of the Cross, she was profoundly struck by the story of Jesus’ Passion. It is a story she’s known most of her life, but there was something about praying with thousands of other young Catholics that brought her to her knees.
“When Jesus took up his cross, I saw the imagery and I didn’t understand why He had to suffer in this way,” said Lam. “Trust and obedience has been a virtue that I wanted to understand better and grow in. I was reminded of his love for all of us. It was an overwhelming love that gave peace to my heart.”
Lam was one of almost 1,400 Canadians who travelled to Panama City for the international event. They were joined by nine bishops and about 30 volunteers from Canada.
The theme was from the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Your Word” (Luke 1:38). Pope Francis used the story of Mary’s fiat (“let it be done”) to encourage young people in their call to mission in the Church. He talked about the challenges of the digital age, the plight of Indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees and care for our common home.
He also challenged the Church’s elders to provide “strong roots” to support young people and keep them firmly grounded.
Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was just as inspired by the Holy Father as the youth he travelled with.
“(Pope Francis) was very strong, saying to the young people, don’t let us older people say you are the future. You are the present and this has been his message all along, even at the Synod (on Young People),” he said.
Caroline Rodrigue, a youth minister and leader of the delegation from Saint-Jean-Longueuil, said she hopes to bring the joy and enthusiasm they witnessed in Panama back to their parishes.
“The way we do celebration here, like with joy and love. I think it’s more important to remember that Jesus wants us to express our faith with joy and love. That’s what I want to bring back.”
The main role of bishops at WYD is to provide catechesis during events held the first three days of the week. About 380 bishops gave catechesis at 137 parishes and public centres throughout the city, in 25 different languages.
During these morning sessions, bishops led pilgrims in a reflection of the theme, followed by a question-and-answer period.
“When (youth) ask me hot-button topics and I have to witness it and they cheer, I know that they want to hear the truth,” said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast. “They want to hear from the bishops about sexual purity. They want to hear the bishops speak about our understanding and respect for human life from conception to natural death. They want to hear us speak and the fact that they hear us so well and support us, gives us encouragement to do it.”
Andrew Santos, 28, said that attending five WYD gatherings around the world has challenged him in his faith.
“From the various papal texts, to the crowds, challenges of leading a group and my own personal discernment, I was challenged in every WYD to dig deep and trust in God’s will for me,” he said. “God proved to me at WYDs, in a big way, that there wasn’t anything He’d give me in which I couldn’t handle.”
But this WYD is bittersweet for Santos, who said it will be his last.
“I made the decision to end my pilgrimage to WYD because of where I am at professionally, as well as moments of grace and understanding,” said Santos, who works as a communications co-ordinator at the Archdiocese of Toronto.
“Now I feel that I can best support and love WYD
and the Holy Father by speaking for the Church and praying for the next
generation of young people who will soon stake their claim in building up the
The next international WYD gathering — the 16th since 1986 — will be held in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2022.
The Catholic Register.