After more than 5 hours of travelling, about two stops, discussions of all kinds on the bus and of course people sleeping we finally arrived in Panama City! Yay! We were assigned to the Parish of Neustra Senora del Perpetuo Socorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) at El Ingenio. We got to the Parish and were warmly welcomed. They gave us juice and snacks. Some people didn’t drink because they realized the juice was expired. It wasn’t the biggest deal but when the Parish priest realized it, he took back the bottles. After the welcome, we were give our pilgrim backpacks and assigned to our families. Our pilgrim back packs contained: a wrist rosary, a pilgrim prayer book, guide and the profiles of the patron saints of this WYD; a T-shirt; a water bottle; a transportation pass; booklet containing our meal coupons; a map of the city; a handband; an ID and its tag and a multipurpose scarf like thing.
I was paired with Assumpta. Our new parents are doctors. They have twin girls: Maria Victoria (Vicky) and Maria Gabriella (Gabby). They also have a little boy named Jose Fernando. It’s very interesting how Maria and Jose are very common names for people in line with Catholic identity. Our sisters in David both had Maria as their first names. The twins had given us their room. It was a real little princess room with twin beds, pictures and images of Disney princess around and of course kids books…but in Spanish.
Both parents speak English but the girls speak Spanish and manage with some words in Spanish.
So most people were happy with their families. Two of our girls weren’t. Thankfully, the next day the issue was resolved.
Monday was free for us. We had mass in the morning and after that, some of us went shopping at Albrook mall. Others also went on other rounds including touring the city. It was exciting!
Tuesday was a busy day. The whole group went to the Panama canal for an excursion after mass. Unfortunately, some people were left behind because they came too late. It is well! The canal is a real engineering piece of work and should be the subject of another blog post. Overall, it was amazing! From there, we went to Allbrook mall for lunch and some more shopping. Next stop was Santa Maria la Antigua field for the opening mass with the Archbishop of Panama. It was exciting to meet other pilgrims and to start trading souvenirs. Team Ghana also did some serious jama which others joined as usual. Some of us were privileged to be in section T2 where we could see the mass happening live without watching from a screen. We listened to the English version on 101.7 or 95.3. After mass, we struggled back home. This was better than Poland where we really got lost. Thank God for small mercies.
Wednesday came and Catechesis started. Team Ghanaa was in charge of the catechesis. The various people who had been assigned set out to perform their roles. Thanks to a last minute cancellation, I was the MC. It was a great experience. The catechesis started with an introduction of the various countries present: Ghana, Malaysia, Canada, USA, India and Myanmar. There was some brief singing after which some people shared testimonies. The theme for the day was: “Here I am.” Archbishop Peter Comensoli of the Archdiocese of Melbourne in Australia taught us on saying yes to God’s call using the story of Samuel. He touched on the various noises that prevent us from hearing God’s voice and invited us to be ready to answer as Samuel was. He also called on leaders, who are guides for young people as Eli was, to welcome warmly, listen attentively, interpret faithfully, teach gently and accompany honestly. There was an interesting question and answer section after which testimonies continued. We had mass at 11. Archbishop Simon Poh of Malaysia concelebrated the mass. After mass, I was privileged to be one of two Ghanaian youth who joined the Archbishops for lunch with youth from the other countries. After lunch most people joined the team to Omar Park for the youth festival. At 5pm, we all lined the streets to meet the pope! After getting the necessary pictures, we returned home.
Thursday had another set playing roles. We had Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria as the bishop Catechist and a friend of his, the President of the Nigerian Conference of Bishops. Archbishop Kaigama taught on “I am the servant of the Lord.” He invited us all to imitate Mary in her complete surrender to God’s will. He also challenged us with stories of young martyrs and called on us to be willing to die for our faith. As usual, there were a number of testimonies shared both before and after the catechesis. Team Ghana led the mass as they did on Wednesday. After mass, some youth joined the Archbishop for lunch while the rest of us used our pilgrim meal coupons. After lunch we went to Santa Maria la Antigua field for the opening ceremony with the Pope. Unfortunately, some of us were late and couldn’t get in. But others did. There was also the option to listen to proceedings on radio. Thus ended Thursday.
Friday saw Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, USA teach on “Be it done unto me according to your word.” He invited pilgrims to reflect on their lives, see God’s hand at work, trust His action in their lives and make a difference in the lives of others. There were testimonies before and after catechesis. Some of the songs for mass were taken up by other pilgrim groups. As usual, some youth has lunch with the Cardinal.
The programme for the afternoon was Stations of the cross with the Pope at Santa Maria La Antigua field. Some members of team Ghana opted to have theirs in the church. An advance team was also sent out to go and find the best way of getting to St. JOHN Paul II field for the vigil. Another event was that, due to a case of suspected malaria of a sick Ghanaian, members of the Ghana team were tested for Malaria.
On Saturday, there were a number of groups from team Ghana who went to the field. The first team secured a place for the whole group. The walk was quite long but not as long as in Poland. And as usual, the foodpack contained a lot of canned stuff since it had to last till the next day.
The vigil was amazing. There was adoration with the Pope. TheGhanaian Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was taken around. The Ghanaian priests also organized the Ghanaian pilgrims to pray the rosary. There was a priest from the USA who had the blessed sacrament exposed for adoration. He also had mass early on Sunday morning. It was a moving sight. The youth festival continued while pilgrims also went round exchanging souvenirs.
Finally, Sunday morning came. The pope celebrated the mass. In his homily, he called on pilgrims to remember that they are the now of God and to fulfil Jesus’s mission in their lives. I think he wasn’t very happy that the venue for the next WYD had already been leaked because he only commented that he wouldn’t announce it since we already knew the venue. Next venue is Portugal! Lisbon 2022. We pray!
Thus WYD 2019 came to an end. We packed up our sleeping bags and made the trek back. The traffic was so serious that you were better off walking. After a long day, we got back home.
Monday morning, team Ghana had mass and made some presentations to the parish that hosted us. Later that day, the first batch of pilgrims left for Ghana. The malaria results were also out by this time so those who tested positive were put on treatment.
On Tuesday, there was mass as well. A second group left. Wednesday also, mass and a third group left.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, it was mainly packing, seeing the city and generally having fun.
Final group should be out of Panama by Friday.
Thank God for a successful pilgrimage!
15 pilgrims are going to the USA for a retreat and an excursion before going back to Ghana. We just landed at the JFK Airport in New York.