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Panama, World Youth Day

A trip to Panama to participate in World Youth Day from January 24 to 27

Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz landed in Panama City on January 24th. Some faithful of Opus Dei and WYD volunteers accompanied him to the chapel, where a few days before, on the 21st, the Metropolitan Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa had inaugurated a plaque at the Tocumen International Airport commemorating the saints and blessed who arrived in the country through this airport.

The text reads: “In memory of the passage through this International Airport of Tocumen in Panama of Saint John Paul II, Pope; Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop; Saint Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer, Founder; Saint Mother Theresa of Calcuta, Founder; Blessed María Romero Meneses, religious sister; Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, Bishop, and other illustrious people who made their lives a service to humanity.”

“Now it will be remembered in our history that very distinguished people have passed through this airpor,” the Archbishop said at the ceremony.

The plaque continues: “Under His Emminence Monsignor José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, Archbishop of Panama, this plaque is being unveiled to commemorate the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis from January 23 to 27, 2019, together with the first pilgrim image of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, on the occasion of the World Youth Day.”

St. Josemaría passed through Panama in February 1975. He was traveling from Venezuela to Guatemala on a catechetical trip when the plane landed at Tocumen International Airport. The work of the Prelature in Panama had not yet begun. Blessed Alvaro del Portillo was also traveling with St. Josemaría.

Afterwards, Msgr. Ocáriz prayed before an image of the patronness of Panama, Our Lady La Antigua, and went to the Cerro Azul conference center. Upon arrival, he greeted the faithful of Opus Dei who were awaiting him at the Tagua Training Center, which organizes educational initiatives for the benefit of Panamanian women.

On the 25th, the Prelate went to the Entremares University Center, close to Our Lady La Antigua Field, where many of the the main World Youth Day events were to take place.

In Entremares he celebrated Holy Mass. In his homily he made reference to the day’s feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. He encouraged those present to ask the Apostle to the Gentiles for the conversion of each one of those taking part in the events with the Holy Father: “Not only for the conversion of those who don’t have faith but also so that each one of us takes another step closer to our Lord.”

We need to desire “a permanent conversion,” he said. “Like Saint Paul, we find ourselves constantly facing our Lord, who tells us, ‘What are you waiting for? Why do you delay?’ Let us ask our Lord to make us react.” He also asked for prayers for persecuted Christians and for those facing special difficulties.

Msgr. Ocáriz then went to the Vasco Núñez de Balboa Conventions Center, where he had his first catechetical get-together during World Youth Day. At the beginning, he spent a few minutes with a group of young people from Venezuela. The first get-together was attended by over 1,500 young women from countries as far away as the Philippines.

As soon as he began, the Prelate asked for prayers for Pope Francis. He also spoke about joy, saying “our goal in life is to love God more each day” and that happiness awaits each one of us right where we are. “It’s possible that we might suffer, it’s possible that we might cry. But that we be sad?—no,” the Prelate said. He also spoke about the vocation that God has in mind for each person. “You need courage to want it, not only to see it. When we say ‘yes’ to the Lord, it’s because of an interior grace. We shouldn’t be afraid because a vocation, any vocation, is a gift that he grants us.”

Therefore “on our part, we have to reply ‘yes, I want to.’ Then we need to seek advice, to pray and to go as frequently as possible to the Eucharist.” He also spoke about freedom: “Because to commit yourself to something, you have to do it freely. Making a commitment is a way of exercising our freedom,” he reminded them.

Finally, he mentioned the importance of friendship. “When there is true friendship, there is concern for the other person. If the person is truly a friend,” Monsignor Ocáriz said, responding to a young woman who asked a question, “she will be interested in your life, and you in hers. This is a starting point and, little by little, the friendship will become apostolate; and together, you will draw closer to our Lord.”

After receiving some families, the Prelate had another catechetical encounter in the afternoon. Over 900 young men, the majority from Central America, filled the auditorium.

In the get-together, Msgr. Ocáriz recalled how “Saint Josemaria reminded us that we can find our Lord in daily events in our lives. Holiness is within everyone’s reach: at work, doing sports, in our families… in everything.” And he added: “Sometimes we don’t understand the things that happen to us or what’s happening in the world. So it helps to have faith.”

One of the fellows there asked the Prelate for advice for young people who are considering a vocation of apostolic celibacy. “If a person sees that this is the path that God is showing him – because of the circumstances, signs, and advice from those who know him – then he should go for it,” he responded. “We don’t do God a favor with apostolic celibacy. It’s he who is giving us a gift. Remember what Jesus told the Samaritan woman: ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that gives it to you…’.”

A young Nicaraguan mentioned the difficulties his country is going through. “You shouldn’t lose hope,” the Prelate responded. “Pray, because by praying we are already doing a lot. The Cross is mysterious, we don’t understand it. It’s a question of faith.”

The Prelate ended with a call to optimism: “We mustn’t get discouraged. Saint Josemaria taught us to begin and begin again. Begin again in the first place by going to where our strength lies: in

confession and the Eucharist; in good friendships; in seeking advice…”

Romana, n. 68, January-June 2019, p. 71-73.

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