Cries of “Aussie Aussie Aussie” filled the air across Panama City on 22 January, as pilgrims from down under descended on the site of World Youth Day 2019.
Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) students were kept busy on the first of six days of celebration, sharing faith with pilgrims from their home country at an all-Aussie celebration, then with visitors from across the world at the week’s official Opening Mass.
Reunited in faith
Fresh from pilgrimages to Mexico City and Washington DC, SCS pilgrims brought plenty of excitement to their first morning gathering together. Students reunited with friends who took different pilgrimage routes, then met with Catholics of every stripe, from archdioceses across the country.
All joined together in praise and worship, then heard from speakers including Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher and Director of the Australian Office of Youth Malcolm Hart, who reflected on the end of the Year of Youth 2018.
“You, the youth of the church are at the forefront…you are at the centre of change,” Mr Hart reminded the crowd.
I finally got to see how universal the Church is
“Without Mary’s yes, and your yes, we are fence sitters. We must accompany the church and lead it into the future. Focus this week on the yes of Mary.”
Archbishop Fisher echoed Mr Hart’s call and encouraged all pilgrims to be part of the 2019 Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Perth, saying he didn’t want “any spiritual FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)”.
A worldwide celebration
Anticipation of the World Youth Day opening mass built throughout pilgrim’s first day, including over a 10km hike to the site of the celebration’s first official event.
Pilgrims exchanged hugs, waves and cheers with the locals en-route and with thousands of pilgrims already celebrating when they arrived at the Mass site.
Maggie Issa, in Year 12 at Holy Spirit Catholic College Lakemba, said the opening Mass was a living lesson that Catholics across the world are united through their faith.
“To see everybody celebrating Mass in the same way, even though we might speak differently…it was one of the most amazing experiences because I finally got to see how universal the Church is,” she said.
Addressing the crowd, Archbishop of Panama Jose Domingo Ulloa Mendieta told the assembled youth to “keep making adults nervous”.
“Young people – the call is still alive. Its intensity and tenderness only Jesus can communicate. As a church we may not have communicated this clearly. We do not think and speak as you do…with you cliches don’t work.”
“We know that just in Jesus time, you young people are looking for witnesses. People who have taken a path.”
“This Central American country is ready to share the joy of faith with a God who is working amongst us.”