By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As World Youth Day in Panama draws near, organizers said they are prepared to make young people from around the globe feel right at home.
While warm temperatures will greet thousands of young people in Panama, Father Romero Aguilar, WYD general coordinator, told Catholic News Service (CNS) he hopes that the warmth of hospitality also will make them feel welcome.
“People are opening their homes to house young people. We were surprised by how the people responded to the appeal for housing. We want all the kids to have a place, a space, a home,” Father Aguilar said.
Father Aguilar, along with Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa of Panama, Danubia Allard, the Panamanian foreign ministry’s liaison for WYD, and Miroslava Rosas, Panama’s ambassador to the Holy See, were among the dignitaries and church officials briefing journalists Dec. 11 on the upcoming event and their preparations to welcome Pope Francis and the myriad of young men and women expected to attend.
The pope’s visit to Panama Jan. 23-27 will be his 26th trip outside of Italy and his third World Youth Day.
The theme for World Youth Day 2019 is taken from the Gospel of St. Luke: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
During his visit, the pope will celebrate a penitential liturgy Jan. 25 with young inmates at Las Garzas de Pacora Juvenile Detention Center in Pacora. He will also visit Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano (Good Samaritan Home), a center dedicated to helping people with HIV-AIDS.
The pope’s meetings with young people who are unable to take part in the public WYD activities is a response to the Gospel’s call to clothe the naked, visit the sick and comfort the imprisoned, the WYD organizing committee said in a Nov. 20 statement.
Although fewer young people will attend the Panama event compared to past World Youth Days, local church and government officials were optimistic and said they expected some 200,000 young people to attend.
From the United States, by Dec. 19 over 10,000 young pilgrims had registered to attend the events in Panama and the number continues to climb, said Paul Jarzembowski, World Youth Day USA coordinator and assistant director of youth and young adult ministries for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
While holding the event in January is challenging for young people in the United States, “this is not the lowest number of pilgrims who have attended a World Youth Day from our country over the past 30 years,” Jarzembowski told CNS.
Father Aguilar said that the warmth felt in Panama is not only “climatological but also human,” and he said he hoped people opening their homes to young pilgrims will encourage countries to open their doors to those in need.
“We have to give an example, especially in the case of immigration. This phenomenon is very much present in our countries,” he said. “We must be welcoming so that nobody feels in any way that they weren’t allowed in Panama. It is a welcoming country and it will be an example of welcoming for everybody.”