Upon my arrival in Panama for World Youth Day 2019 to see Pope Francis, we were greeted by a group of joyful Panamanians. In all, the Belen group was made up of 11 students and three faculty members. As soon as we arrived, we joined the pilgrims with the Archdiocese of Miami. After settling in, we met our WYD tour guide, Dario. I volunteered to be the flag bearer for the first half of our on-foot excursion. We toured the metro and the bay area of Panama and visited The Cathedral of Saint Francis, the neighborhood’s city hall. It was a great experience and I was a bit surprised when we arrived back to the hotel and I noticed we had walked 19,734 steps, the equivalent of 8.8 miles!
Day 2 was an unforgettable experience. We arrived at 2 p.m. at the Mass grounds. The Mass didn’t begin until 5:30 p.m. but our time was not spent idly. Before the Mass, we sang songs with thousands of people from different countries and danced various folklore dances. We traded Belen wrist bands and shirts for other keychains, rosaries and bracelets. Once the Mass started, the crowd of thousands of youths from around the world were silent. It was spectacular! For me, this was the most graceful moment of the entire trip. Just imagine the noise that had just been so prevalent. The mingling of different people, languages, accents who were all somehow singing in harmony and then suddenly come to a complete silence because of the sanctity of the Mass. The silence during the consecration of the body and blood of Christ moved me so much. All these people, who did not understand each other’s native languages, all coming together to listen to the universal church. It is a beautiful silence that only God himself can create.
The next couple of days, we took metros and experienced catechesis talks with archbishops and everyday people who shared their stories and renewal with Christ. Many of them had impacting stories and gave everyone an opportunity to reflect on themselves and their approach to their spiritual lives.
The night of the farewell Mass vigil and adoration we took a bus 6 miles and walked the next
2.5 miles to the campgrounds where we spent the night. We took part in a peaceful quiet adoration accompanied by 850,000 other pilgrims. After adoration, everyone started to sing and dance and Brother Michael Martinez '09 was able to perform his famous raps to crowds of pilgrims. I’ll admit, that night we didn’t get much sleep. In my case, my spider phobia came into full effect, while I constantly flinch and squirm around to prevent spiders from crawling on me. Nonetheless, when morning came we knew it was going to be a special day. Pope Francis was arriving! Everyone was ready with his/her cameras and “Pope Francis Miramé” signs. After his arrival, Mass began. Everyone was very attentive and in a peaceful state of mind. As the mass came to a close, Pope Francis gave his final blessing; thousands upon thousands, including myself, lifted up items that we wanted to be blessed.
After Mass was over, it was chaos. Everyone was storming the exits of the field. All 850,000 people embarked on the approximately 10 mile walk back to the city. It was an amazing experience that took nearly 5 hours.
In all, 101,430 steps and 48 miles is what we walked. I highly recommend for all my brothers in the Belen community to go #WYDLibson2022 in Portugal for another moving experience.