Article by Phoenix Editor Anya Murphy ’19
Anxious World Youth Day pilgrims in bright yellow polos lounged in the waiting area of JFK International Airport early on the morning of January 18, 2019. After a long flight, and, for some, a layover in Miami, they finally landed in Panama.
When both flights had landed later in the evening, the group’s first move was dinner and an early bedtime as they eagerly awaited the next day’s activity.
At 5:30 a.m. sharp, the pilgrims were dressed and ready for their first adventure of many – a boat trip down the Panama Canal.
Pilgrim Caitlin McDonough ’19 said, “It was so cool to see the Panama Canal. It was a chance to see the historical side of Panama; we learn about the canal in almost every history class, so seeing it in real life was pretty awesome.”
The next morning, the group boarded boats that took them on a tour of the Gamboa Rainforest. Once they arrived, they rode in gondolas and scaled a 70-meter tall observation tower, from the top of which they could see the Chagres River Valley and the canal. Later that afternoon, they took a boat ride on Lake Gatun and saw sloths, turtles, crocodiles, and butterflies.
Caroline Canny ’19 described the views as, “captivating.” She elaborated, “The wildlife in Panama was so different from anything I have ever seen before. Coming from freezing winter New York, The temperature chance was definitely welcome, and being able to see such cute animals like monkeys and sloths while wearing shorts in January was such a great experience.”
A day of rest followed these activities, as pilgrims spent time in the pool at their hotel, the Westin Playa Bonita. Students and moderators alike worked on their tans at the beach, and the day concluded with a foam party in the pool.
As World Youth Day drew closer, the pilgrims moved hotels to the Miramar Intercontinental, a more central and urban location in Panama City. They explored an artisanal market and bought hand-plaited bracelets as souvenirs for friends and family.
Jackie Quinn ’19 was wandering through the bazaar with fellow Kellenberg pilgrims Caitlin McDonough and Kyra Varley ’19 when they happened to meet two young men whom they soon discovered were Americans themselves. After a short conversation, it was revealed that the boys were from Michigan, and flew to Costa Rica before driving 26 hours to Panama City for World Youth Day.
Jackie reflected, “The lengths people went to be there blew my mind. It showed that the young people of our religion are dedicated and it made me proud to be a Catholic. People were sleeping outside and in huts just to be present when the Pope was there and to be with everyone else and I thought it was very inspiring.”
While at the bazaar and touring the city, the group met many other young people, with whom they traded small items representing their countries, like pins, bracelets, and flags.
The day before WYD, the group visited the Biodiversity Museum designed by famous architect Frank Gehry. They also saw a portrait of the Blessed Virgin composed of mosaic tiles by Antonio Gaudi, the designer of the world-renowned basilica Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
Lauren Glupe ’19 shared, “Being able to see so much history through the art in the museums and churches really opened my eyes to the richness of our faith.”
On the morning of January 22, the group followed Larry Shammas, Chaminade ’19, and Sergio Arreaga ’19, who held the Marianist banners, to the inaugural Mass of World Youth Day 2019. A confluence of thousands of young people from all over the world officially opened the celebration. Hundreds of flags lined the pathway
Archbishop JD Ulloa of Panama celebrated the Mass that evening, hoping to inspire the young people gathered to continue to grow in their faith.
He implored the young people, “Keep making the adults nervous, keep detaching yourselves from the things that tie us down and won’t let us be true Christians.”
The next day, the group attended a Mass celebrated by Diocese of Rockville Centre’s Auxiliary Bishop, Robert Brennan at La Merced, the oldest church in Panama, parts of which date back to the 1680s. Bishop Brennan is now the newly appointed Bishop of Columbus, Ohio.
Pilgrim Catie Sullivan ’19 decided that the best part of being able to see so many historic and religious sites was, “meeting people from all different walks of life and coming together through faith. It was so moving connecting with people and even if we did not speak the same language, we both understood that we are all one through Christ”
The highlight of the trip for many was the group’s first sighting of the Pope, who drove past in the Popemobile as they waited on the street with thousands of others.
Daniela Rigazio ’19 reflected that seeing the Pope was, “the best moment of my life.” She recounted the climax of the hours she spent waiting for him to drive by, “We had been standing by the side of the road for hours, and finally we heard that he was coming up the street we were standing on. Everyone ran down the road along the barricade and were holding their phones up hoping to get Pope Francis on video. I’m not that tall and I couldn’t get a spot close enough to the railing to see, so I was just jumping up and down, hoping I would have the right timing. I saw the top of his head out the window of the car, and it was amazing.”
Before Pope Francis gave a closing Mass, some students chose to share their faith experience with their fellow pilgrims through reflections and testimonials.
Caitlin McDonough commented, “Through pictures, my family was able to feel the spiritual connection that I was feeling at World Youth Day and that’s really unique and an awesome feeling that what you are doing is affecting others.”
Article by Phoenix Editor Anya Murphy ’19