At the end of this historic and grace-filled pilgrimage, the most important thing that we have to bring back is found in the heart of each pilgrim
By Rev. Fr. Tobby Musinguzi Abwooli
On January 19, a group of Ugandan youths, chaplains and two Catholic Bishops headed for the World Youth Day in Panama. World Youth Day is an international encounter promoted by the Catholic church for young people from around the world. It takes place after every three years in a festive, religious and cultural atmosphere, which shows the universality, diversity and dynamism of the Church and celebrates the joy of the young soul encountering Jesus Christ giving testimony to his message of promoting peace, unity and solidarity among all the people of the world.
Panama is a small country on the American continent with a population exceeding four million, 85% of which profess the Catholic faith. Its geographic position makes it the bridge of the world and the heart of the universe. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the whole world has been in Panama from January 14 to 29.
The Journey to Panama by the Ugandan youths and their chaplains was two days because of the different connecting flights that is, from Entebbe to Kigali to Doha to Madrid and finally to Tocumen-Panama international Airport. The journey from Madrid to Panama was 12 hours. We had a very warm and joy-filled reception at the airport by the Panamanians. Different families were already stationed at the airport to take different pilgrims to their homes.
The evening passed and morning came, it was our second day of the pilgrimage. The second day was spent with different youths from different countries of the world in touring and visiting the different faith sites and other tourist attraction features in Panama. These include the great Basilica of the Golden Altar, Metropolitan Basilica of Panama, Our Lady of Mercy Church, St. Philip Neri Oratory, Cinta Costera Capital, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans coasts and the famous, amazing and spectacular looking The Panama Canal which unites the world by connecting two oceans.
It was constructed in 1913 and controlled by the Americans until 1999 when it was handed over to the Panamanian government. The third and fourth days of our pilgrimage were spent in a very joyful mood where we had catechesis in different places and different languages. Ugandan pilgrims being from English speaking country joined all the other countries of English speaking. Other catecheses were in Spanish (the commonest language for Latin American Countries), Germany and French. After every catechesis by the bishops, the youth were given a chance to ask questions freely pertaining to their faith and morals. Catechesis would be followed by Mass and Uganda had a chance of animating Mass on Thursday, Jan 24 led by Bishop Andrew from Cameroon.
The last four days were spent with the Holy Father Pope Francis whom we received with joy on 24th at the airport and greeted a multitude of pilgrims at the Vatican Embassy in Panama. On Thursday the Holy Father addressed the youth at Santa Maria La Antigua field in which he urged the youth to always respond to God's calling by saying YES like what Mary did (the Fiat). The Way of the Cross, Adoration and Rosary were among the devotions that the youth actively participated in with the Holy Father on Friday and Saturday respectively. The last day of the pilgrimage was Sunday where the Holy Father presided over Mass and in his homily, he emphasized that the youth are the NOW not the Future of both the church and the nation. It was a joyful moment for me as a Roman Catholic priest to concelebrate with the Pope! Thanks be to God for that.
In actual sense, for the young people, World Youth Day represents an opportunity to show the energy and joy which they, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, have experienced upon meeting Jesus who walks with us along the way. The journey towards Panama has been made under the motherly mantle of Mary who motivates us with the simple message of service: "I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).
This has been the theme of the 2019 World Youth Day. Through this message, the youth seek to follow Mary's example who changed the course of history with a yes silently preparing a way for Jesus and with him incarnating for the world the mercy of the Father. At the end of this historic and grace-filled pilgrimage, the most important thing that we have to bring back is found in the heart of each pilgrim who, like our Mother Mary has learned to keep the gift that God has for their lives in their heart with love.
Therefore, the question is; are we ready to accept God's plan for our lives with the same determination as the Blessed Mother? The answer lies deep down in each pilgrim's heart. The Pope announced that the next World Youth Day will be held in Portugal in 2022.
My humble prayer and appeal are to see the government of Uganda being part and parcel of supporting the youth to participate.
Writer is a Diocesan Youth Chaplain of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Portal