‘I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38)
The experience of being welcomed by simple, warm and friendly people with a readiness to be of help at all times has been the hallmark of my stay thus far. Panama has been dressed up for the occasion with banners and flags and above all a radiating spirit of joy and happiness. San Antonio parish hosts over 700 pilgrims. Coordinating transport and pickup and catering to different needs in several languages has been done by a team of dedicated volunteers young and old. I was warmly welcomed by Luis Luis Antonio Vega, a short distance from the parish. He spoke Spanish and I spoke English and despite the barrier of language we made ourselves understood. Always keen to be a assistance, I enjoyed visiting the Omar Park and a visit to the Panama Canal, Miraflores locks – a unique system that has been in operation for over a century. Young people from all over the world have come with a lot of energy as pilgrims to experience the Lord under the motherly mantle of Mary, who comes with the message of service: ‘I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38). Her ‘Yes’ has changed the course of history. Our young people are ready to do the same. The Vocations Fair at the Omar Park is an opportunity for young people to deepen their vocational discernment through workshops, stands, moments of prayer, games and vocational spiritual direction. Entitled, ‘Follow Me’ it is the joyful proclamation to a specific vocation that we are called by God for a lifelong project: matrimony, religious life, the priesthood or being committed laity.
Amidst the many stalls was the one of the Salesian Family where I met young seminarians, Salesians and sisters who also pass on their regards across the miles to the many they know personally. Radio Maria was another stall and I was happy to sign my name near the logo. Inspirational music led the many young people to sing, dance and pray. Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation in booths specially prepared for the occasion by the Correctional centre unit is an experience that I will treasure. The search for faithful catholic living is evident. Despite the heat the lines for confession are long and winding. Hearing the words, ‘I absolve you from your sins’ and believing that our relationship to God is a powerful experience of joy and happiness. Young and old make their way to this Garden of Peace entitled: Rejuvenation. José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, OSA was the main celebrant at the Opening Mass of World Youth Day 2019. It was held at the Campo Cinta Costera, Santa Maria la Antigua on the 22nd January. Hundreds of bishops, priests and several thousands of young people gathered from all over the city to celebrate the event. The archbishop thanked the pilgrims and the people for this celebration of faith. “As pilgrims, we come to share the personal and living encounter with the Lord, united with young people from all over the world who add richness of culture, tradition and experience. We celebrate the glory of God as we confess one faith in many languages, to glorify God with prayer, love, forgiveness and in communion with all”, he said.
Walking long distances, traffic jams, travelling in busses and trains and seeking help from so many kind and generous souls, has been my experience. Meeting Fr Lionel Braganza and other Salesians from Kuwait and different countries of Africa has been an encounter. My sincere thanks to Gloria O’Reilly and Alan Lopez who assisted me along the way and made sure I reach home safely.
Fr. Ambrose Pereira sdb
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