Sydney Catholic school pilgrims woke in Panama City’s Metro Park on Sunday morning, where about 700,000 people had gathered for the final World Youth Day Mass.
They had travelled more than 12 kilometres the day before in 35 degree heat, mostly on foot, to attend a prayer vigil ahead of the main event on 27 January. Pilgrims were in high spirits, singing along the way.
Pope Francis’ homily centred on the Gospel of Luke (Lk 4:20-21), where Jesus first preaches at a temple in Nazareth.
World Youth Day is like how the world should be, with everyone communicating and being loving towards each other.
The message was to be present and see God not as distant, but as making a concrete difference in daily life.
“This is the ‘now’ of God,” he said. “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.”
Pope Francis said dreams could lose their buoyancy when people waited to act for the future, rather than being present in the moment and working towards the future now.
“You can experience this whenever you think that your mission, your vocation, even your life itself, is a promise far off in the future … as if being young were a kind of waiting room, where we sit around until we are called,” he said.
“Whatever you fall in love with, it will win over not only your imagination, it will affect everything. It will be what makes you get up in the morning, what keeps you going at times of fatigue, what will break open your hearts and fill you with wonder, joy and gratitude. Realize that you have a mission and fall in love – that will decide everything.”
At the final Mass, All Saints Catholic Senior College Casula Year 12 student Emily D’Silva said her favourite part of the journey had been making new friends.
“You’re in your bubble normally but World Youth Day is like how the world should be, with everyone communicating and being loving towards each other,” she said.
“The toughest day was definitely the walk. The best part was getting here and seeing the final days of world youth day come together. I’m excited to go home and bring all the things I have learnt back to my parish, school and community.”
The ‘now’ of God … is a merciful love that does not wait for ideal or perfect situations to show itself.
Joseph Kimindiri, in Year 11 at the college, said the humidity was an unexpected element of the pilgrim’s walk to the final Mass.
“It has cooled down now, and I’m having a really good time at World Youth Day,” he said.
“I really liked walking around, seeing all the different cultures and nations around me, and just knowing that Catholicism is big in the world. It’s really good to see all these youth that believe in Jesus.”
Lisbon announced as next WYD venue
At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis thanked the dignitaries and volunteers that had helped to make the event a reality. He then urged pilgrims to share their experience with their families, friends and communities.
The next World Youth Day will be held in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022.