Panama's bishops see World Youth Day 2019 as bridge, 'fiesta Latina'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Agencja Gazeta, Jakub Porzycki, via Reuters

By Jonathan Luxmoore

KRAKOW, Poland (CNS) — Panama,
which will host World Youth Day in 2019, is a small country, but the head of its
bishops’ conference has no doubts the church will be able to organize the

“Panama, with its canal, is
a bridge between two continents, and we’ll also make it a symbolic bridge
between young people, especially in Latin America,” said Cardinal Jose Lacunza
Maestrojuan of David, Panama.

At a news conference in Krakow
July 31, the cardinal said Panama was well-placed for air, road and sea
communications with North and South America and would give the World Youth Day
a distinctive character.

“We truly hope this will be
a blessing for our country, placing it at the center of the whole world’s
attention,” Cardinal Lacunza said.

Bishop Manuel Ochogavia Barahona
of Colon-Kuna Yala said Panama was “a multicultural country, incorporating
all the world’s races,” and would make World Youth Day a “fiesta Latina,”
adding that plans would include “a lot of sun and salsa.”

Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa
Mendieta of Panama told journalists Pope Francis had “once again surprised
us” by choosing Central America as a venue, adding that World Youth Day
would be an opportunity to “promote the region’s youth.”

“Panama’s youngsters are
suffering from mass emigration, unemployment, violence and (human) trafficking —
so this will be a great stimulus for us to start again,” the archbishop
said. “It’ll also be important for following the pope’s call to bring the
faith to the peripheries. Panama is one of those peripheries, and the World
Youth Day will achieve this end.”

Panamanian President Juan Carlos
Varela attended the final weekend of World Youth Day with his wife, Lorena
Castillo, visiting Wadowice, hometown of St. John Paul II, and the former Nazi
concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. He accepted rosaries
at a Spanish prayer service at Krakow’s Divine Mercy Sanctuary and met the pope
after the closing World Youth Day Mass.

In a July 31 statement, he said
he was happy Pope Francis had recognized that Panama’s values of “peace,
dialogue and coexistence” were similar to those of World Youth Day, adding
that his government would back the Catholic Church in facilitating “an
event which includes every part of society.”

Catholics traditionally make up three-quarters
of the 3.3 million inhabitants of Panama.

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