250,000 Catholic youth gather in Panama for World Youth Day

World Youth Day is a gathering of Catholic youth and young adults from around the globe. Saint John Paul II hosted the first World Youth Day in Rome in 1986, and many different countries have since hosted it when the event occurs every two or three years. This year’s theme is, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to be according to your word.” Bishop Jaime Soto joined Morning Air® live from Panama City, where he is leading a group of pilgrims from his Diocese of Sacramento.

The experience of attending World Youth Day stirs up in young people a desire to go deeper in faith. “I’ve seen in my own experience of what this World Youth Day experience means for many of the young men and women who participate in this. And it does stir up that inquietude, that restlessness, and not only does it stir it up but it also sets them on a course of drawing closer to the Lord Jesus. And yes, there have been not only religious vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life, but also I know that many Christian marriages have come out of World Youth Day,” says Bishop Soto.

Gathering with Catholic youth from around the world brings into perspective the universality of the Church. “Last night we had the opening Mass for World Youth Day … in Panama City. As I was walking back from the Mass and meeting up with young Catholics from all over the world, it was just thrilling for me as a pastor to see the enthusiasm poured out on the street and to be talking with folks from Australia and meeting up with a delegation from Mexico and also seeing young people from Pakistan. And to see this exuberant adventurism, this Catholic adventurism that wants to not just settle with a quiet faith but wants to have a restless faith—that’s what the Archbishop Jose Domingo spoke yesterday to the young people to hold on to that restlessness, as we say in Spanish, la inquietud, and not to settle for what the world offers them but to realize that there is something more. That their hearts were made for something more and they will find that satisfaction in the person of Jesus.”

Pope Francis left for Panama on Thursday, where he will celebrate Mass and several other special events with the 250,000 who are expected to attend. “One of the logistical things to think about in circumstances like this is, where are folks going to stay? Well, imagine that schools have opened their doors, Catholic churches, gymnasiums. People are looking for anywhere that they can find a roof; they’re going to take it! The local Islamic community has opened its doors to about 500 pilgrims, so all over we are finding pilgrims pouring in, especially from throughout Latin America,” reported Ashley Noronha, Relevant Radio® Rome Correspondent.

The events on Thursday are very celebratory as World Youth Day kicks off and people welcome Pope Francis to the country. “Fridays in World Youth Days tend to be a little more solemn, a day of recollection. … The Holy Father is going to visit a youth detention center and he’ll preside over a penitential liturgy there and for the first time in the history of world youth day, he will actually hear confessions there in the prison,” said Noronha. The youth from the prison have been busy preparing to welcome the pope, and have built about 200 confessionals that will be used throughout the World Youth Day events.

Stay tuned to Relevant Radio through the week for more news and updates from Panama City and World Youth Day!

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.