WYD Panama: Youth accepted the challenge of being God’s influencers


World Youth Day Panama 2019 may have only just concluded, but its fruits are already manifesting. Attendees’ faces reflect the happiness of having experienced a life-changing event.

“It was the best experience of my life”; “It will remain in me forever”; “I left in love with God.” These were just a few of the experiences expressed by some of the 300 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Denver who attended WYD.

Some of these young people stayed in contact with the Denver Catholic throughout the entire trip to share with us their lived experience in Panama.

Thursday, January 24

“How good it is to get together again, this time in a land that receives us with such radiance and warmth! As we gather in Panama, World Youth Day is once more a celebration, a celebration of joy and hope for the whole Church and, for the world, a witness of faith,” said Pope Francis to the youth at the welcome ceremony and opening of World Youth Day that was held at Campo Santa María la Antigua.

The emotion of praising our Father is so strong that we were all together regardless of sex, skin color, accent, cultures, etc.”

The pope reminded the attendees of the importance of unity: “We know that the father of lies, the devil, always prefers people who are divided and quarrelling,” he said. “He is the master of division, and he is afraid of people who have learned to work together. This is a criterion for distinguishing people: those who build bridges and those who build walls. The builders of walls seek to sow fear and make people afraid. But you want to be bridge builders!”

“Pope Francis with his love and affection motivates us, a new generation tired of society’s actions, afraid of becoming adults and becoming part of the problems we now face,” said Daniel Palomino, one of the Colorado pilgrims and parishioners of Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City.

Friday, January 25

WYD pilgrims had a day full of activities, and Auxiliary Bishop of Denver Jorge Rodríguez joined attendees from the archdiocese. After the Eucharist, the young people visited the Park of Forgiveness, a park assigned for confessions, where they were received by a group of priests and volunteers who invited the pilgrims to do an examination of conscience and encouraged them with joy at the end of the confession.

“The emotion of praising our Father is so strong that we were all together regardless of sex, skin color, accent, cultures, etc.,” said pilgrim Patricia Gonzalez, parishioner of Queen of Peace parish. “At the Park of Forgiveness, we [were] given the opportunity to visit the vocational fair. There were about 300 religious communities offering information. Hundreds of young people enjoyed this.”

Saturday, January 26

Vigil with the young people. The moments before the meeting with the pope were described by pilgrims as: “Four long hours of waiting, heat, suffocation, panic attacks and/or claustrophobia, and many frustrated and annoyed young people.” However, all of that “disappeared with the first sentence of [Pope Francis’] speech. It suffices only with the breath of God the Father through his faithful servants to bring us peace.”

The pilgrims expressed the emotions they felt to see the pope’s concern for the needs of the Church, the countries and the common home. “He invited us to remain friendly, to be young people who smile and who reflect the love of Jesus. He invited us to transmit the message of unity and peace. He invited us to start a new phase as young Catholics, in which we not only defend our religion but also defend and respect our common home — the house that God gave to us and that we are destroying,” Palomino said.

Pope Francis with his love and affection motivates us, a new generation tired of society’s actions, afraid of becoming adults and becoming part of the problems we now face.”

The pope spoke to the young people in their own language, giving them a speech in which he referred to Mary as the “influencer of God,” referencing Mary’s “yes” to God.

“That was how he surprised Mary and asked her to be part of this love story,” Pope Francis told the youth. “Obviously, the young woman of Nazareth was not part of the ‘social networks’ of the time.  She was not an ‘influencer,’ but without wanting or trying to, she became the most influential woman in history.”

Sunday, January 27

During the closing Mass, which had an attendance of approximately 700,000, the pope invited the young people to follow Mary’s example of saying “yes” to the mission entrusted to them by God and assured them that Our Lady accompanies them in their journey. This message was very well received by the youth of the Archdiocese of Denver, who, together with the Bishop Rodríguez, returned home more motivated and with a heart burning in faith.

“There is no doubt that Pope Francis knows how to connect with young people. And it is evident that they are ready to accept their challenge of a holy, happy and committed life,” Bishop Rodríguez said. “WYD Panama is proving it! Our young people in Denver have turned this experience into a feast of faith and have renewed their enthusiasm for Pope Francis.”

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”