By a Latin American Catholic
I landed in Panama with cautious optimism.
As a Catholic who loves his faith, and who forms himself daily, I had prepared for what I believed to be a pilgrimage. Through increased personal prayer, daily Mass, adoration and regular praying of the Rosary, I felt that I was ready to witness Catholics from all over the globe coming together to celebrate the oneness of the true Faith — our Catholic Faith.
I am fully aware of the slow and largely unnoticed, yet effective, impact of Modernism on our beloved Church, and was going in eyes wide open. What I was to experience over the next three weeks would shock, disappoint and anger me, as well as thrill and fill me with joy at times.
When I first learned that Panama was the host country for World Youth Day 2019 (WYD), I had my doubts as to their capacity to host large crowds, and was concerned regarding their organizational ability in general. I was right on many points. Things were largely disorganized, accommodation not always comfortable, there were no schedules or itineraries and most events ran late.
The Panamanian people, however, were amazing! They are hospitable, colorful and vibrant. They are warm and kind-hearted and understand service to others. They opened their homes to us, people they did not know, and did so lovingly. Many have a simple yet profound faith, and the visible devotion to the Blessed Mother was wonderful to see.
A beautiful thing to witness was to see the local people walking out of the adoration chapel backwards, so as not to turn their backs on Our Lord.
Unfortunately, WYD Panama 2019 did not begin and end with the warmth of the local people.
Almost immediately, the lack of spiritual preparation by the pilgrims was evident, including most of those I was with from my own country. A lack of reverence during Mass, a focus on partying, drinking and embracing the hook-up culture and general disinterest in the real reason for the trip left me feeling deeply disappointed. This was not what Pope St. John Paul II had imagined for World Youth Day.
The apathy and lack of formation and understanding of the truths of our faith demonstrated by many I met was shown to be but a reflection of what is happening in our Church — priests taking part in drinking antics and inappropriate talk, and many walking around in civvies without a Roman collar to be seen, are just some of my observations.
Masses were valid, and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist was always the highlight of my day. The music, however, was protestant praise and worship, at best. Pilgrims sat on their phones after receiving the Eucharist, and the lack of reverence by many was astonishing. It was beautiful to see, however, most if not all receiving the Eucharist on their tongues, as seems to be the norm in Panama.
WYD Panama 2019 culminated in an all-night vigil.
For adoration, the Blessed Sacrament was on a big stage, the praise and worship band sharing the same space as Our Lord. It was noisy and irreverent, yet among all of the chaos and emotive swaying and hand-raising, some Catholics were kneeling reverently, gathered around the monstrance, quietly praying.
There was also a Marian procession, one of those moments that filled me with much joy when seeing devotion to Our Lady. Seeing Pope Francis was a bittersweet moment — part joy at seeing him who fills the seat of Peter, and part confusion and mistrust with all that has gone on, and continues to, during this papacy.
The Stations of the Cross — Jesus' worst time of suffering — was supported by dancers and entertainment on stage. The general message was that young people are not the Church of the future, but the "now." Yet the many people I spoke to seemed lost regarding their faith. Many don't even attend Mass in their home countries, some arriving at WYD as a result of a last-minute decision.
It was clear to me that most Catholics do not understand the truths of the Faith, ranging from teachings about sex before marriage, to contraception, to homosexuality and abortion. So many different versions of the truth are being taught — again reflective of the goings on at the highest levels of our Church. Such was the cross-section of Catholics at these events.
And then it was over.
Throughout our three-week pilgrimage, and especially over the six days of WYD, there just seemed to be an ongoing assault of the senses. Noise, music, lights, food, singing, dancing, entertainment, more noise, more dancing ...
There was very little, if any, time for reflection and quiet prayer. But we made time.
The goal was always not only to receive, but to give, and my prayer on the back of this WYD Panama 2019 trip was that if I was able to touch one person through the sharing of Catholic truths, in the midst of a seemingly blatant attempt to undermine them, this pilgrimage was worthwhile.