Pilgrims in Panama: Seniors Embrace Other Catholics and Other Cultures at World Youth Day

By Justin Caccavo ’20

          While most Chaminade students spent the end of January in the cold and dreary weather of New York, a number of seniors had the opportunity to embrace their Catholic faith in the sunny Panama City, Panama. Every three years, the Pope calls for a celebration, known as World Youth Day, at which young Catholics (aged 16-35) gather for festivals, masses, the opportunity to see His Holiness, and an eclectic celebration of the Catholic faith. Along with this celebration, Chaminade seniors also engaged in several other cultural experiences while in the Central American country, such as touring the Panama Canal and visiting the Gamboa Rainforest to discover Panama’s diverse ecosystem.

After restless five-hour flights on JetBlue and COPA airlines on either January 17th or 18th, the Marianist pilgrims finally arrived in Panama. They took a day to situate themselves in their hotel and then went to the Panama Canal for a boat tour. At this point, the Chaminade pilgrims had been joined by students and faculty from Kellenberg Memorial High School, uniting the pilgrims as brothers and sisters in Christ. After touring the Panama Canal, the pilgrims went to the Gamboa Rainforest, where they had the opportunity to see many exotic animals such as sloths, monkeys, and capybaras.

Chaminade pilgrims, along with their Kellenberg counterparts, tour the Panama Canal, one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

On January 22, World Youth Day officially commenced. Our Flyers joined hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from all around the world for the presentation of the theme of this year’s World Youth Day: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” from Mary’s Fiat in Luke 1:38. Pope Francis arrived on Wednesday, January 23 and was greeted by a parade of jubilant, cheering pilgrims. Humbled by the Pope’s presence, some people in the crowd offered their babies to be blessed by Pope Francis. This World Youth Day marked the first time the Pope had been on Panamanian soil since 1983. Elation was in the air for the opening ceremony at the Campo Santo Maria di Antigua, with thousands of pilgrims eagerly awaiting the Archbishop of Panama’s opening address.

From there, the Marianist pilgrims attended Mass everyday, prayed the rosary, held Eucharistic Adoration, and had the opportunity to meet many Catholics from different countries.

Friends in Christ: Chaminade students pose with the faithful from around the world.

On the privilege of meeting people from around the globe, John Veletanga ’19 added, “It is unbelievable to witness the different people and their cultures from around the world be unified through the Catholic Faith.”  During the festivities, visiting young Catholics played soccer with local Panamanians, or as it’s called in Panama, fútbol. Adding to the cultural experience of the trip was the opportunity for seniors to practice their Spanish IV skills by interacting with other pilgrims.

Surprised by the influence of the Catholic Church throughout the world, Brendan Lough ’19 said, “It was really cool to see so many young people there for the same reason, and it was eye-opening to find out how strong internationally the Catholic Church is.”

After a week of faith experiences, our Chaminade students said their goodbyes to the new friends they had made, packed their bags, and headed back home on January 27th. They returned to Chaminade as different men, carrying with them an unforgettable, eye-opening experience and an intensified Catholic faith.

The Flyer pilgrims attend daily Mass as part of the full faith experience of World Youth Day 2019.

World Youth Day in 2022 will take place in Lisbon, Portugal. As such, this year’s freshman will get a chance to experience the same deepening of the understanding of faith and cultures our current seniors just had.