World Youth Day: Panama 2019

With World Youth Day coming this January 22-27, excitement is building around the world as young men and women get ready to cross oceans and continents to worship as one body with Pope Francis in Panama. The theme this year is, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). What began as an act of love and faith by Pope St. John Paul II for the youth of the Church when he instituted the first World Youth Day in 1986, has now become a worldwide movement and life-changing experience affecting millions of young people.

Paul Jarzembowski, Assistant Director for Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has attended and led pilgrimages to seven previous WYD’s and is prepping for Panama! Let’s find out more:

JPII said this at the first gathering of youth in 1984 in St. Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday when 300,000 young people answered his invitation for an International Jubilee of Youth: “What a fantastic spectacle is presented on this stage by your gathering here today! Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?” Doesn’t that sound familiar to what we are seeing and facing with today’s youth? Do you feel a renewed sense of hope attending these events?

People often underestimate youth and young adults. Because they are younger and still maturing into full adulthood, they can easily be dismissed by older generations. In the same way, the Church’s ministries to youth, collegians and young adults can be forgotten by some. However, St. John Paul II would have none of that. He intentionally raised up young people as a fully connected part of the Church community and advocated for their role in secular society. Youth and young adults can be the protagonists of the Church, especially in the face of the challenges it now faces.

This summer, the World Youth Day Cross visited the United States for a nationwide tour for the first time in 25 years—and it took place in the midst of the storm and crisis we are now experiencing. Some were worried that the crisis would keep young people away, but it did not. Thousands of youth and young adults and families came out to carry and journey with the WYD Cross in five U.S. cities (Chicago, Miami, Houston, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles). That was a sign of hope right there. It is the young people who are the great protagonists who will lead the rest of us towards Christ and the Gospel, even in the darkest times.

What do you think each of us can do stateside to bring that vigor and zeal back to our local churches and communities?

World Youth Day was meant for the world. No youth or young adult is excluded. Even if a young person cannot travel to Panama or any WYD because of money, school, work, time, documentation or immigration status, they can still be an integral part of the pilgrimage. Stateside, local churches can host gatherings or digital encounters in January 2019, concurrent with WYD Panama. Young people can participate through social media, television, their mobile devices or in community with others at a stateside WYD event.

Let’s make World Youth Day a celebration of every young person—from adolescents to college students to young professionals and young adults, from every cultural community and city in our land! But in order to make that happen, we need leaders and active Catholics ready to welcome them in for this celebration.

Tell us about this upcoming World Youth Day in Panama. How many people are you bringing from the United States and what will the week entail?

We are anticipating about 10,000 youth and young adults from the United States to go to Panama, with about 30 or 40 bishops accompanying them on this journey.

There will be a great week of activities beginning with the Opening Mass with the Archbishop of Panama on Tuesday, Jan. 22, and continuing with Pope Francis’ arrival on Thursday, Jan. 24, a special Via Crucis on Friday, Jan. 25, an evening Prayer Vigil on Saturday, Jan. 26 and the Closing Mass with the Holy Father on Sunday, Jan. 27. Each day during the week will feature morning catechetical sessions with bishops and cultural festival events in the afternoons.

The young people who come to Panama will get a taste of the Central American and Caribbean Catholic Church, full of vibrancy, hospitality and evangelical spirit. While Panama is a small country, the entire Latin American community of Central and South America will be there to welcome the international pilgrims to their part of the world. Panama is the bridge that connects north and south, east and west, and this WYD will be a chance to mend divisions, calm stormy waters and come together as one Catholic family. In the midst of the challenges that are facing the Church now, World Youth Day is a source of hope and light. It is an example of what the Church looks like when we work side-by-side and hand-in-hand. It will be a little messy here and there, but it will be a deeply spiritual encounter with God and the Church.

Why make the effort to attend a WYD? Betsy Palmer from the Diocese of Metuchen tells us:

At least once in your life, you should go to World Youth Day. There, you will be with thousands of other young people who are in love with Jesus and his Church. You will encounter hope in the faces of the young people who are striving to live as Christ’s Disciples and bring his kingdom to earth. At World Youth Day, you will also encounter the face of Christ in the sacraments, the prayers and the other pilgrims.

One of my favorite saints and most powerful intercessors is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. At WYD 2016 in Krakow, Poland, I had the opportunity to get to know Frassati’s niece, Wanda. Wanda was inspiring. We talked a lot about her uncle and how she is continuing to share his story with young people. I also learned more about her work in promoting Frassati’s cause around the world. The WYDUSA office had the opportunity to plan a prayer service in Holy Trinity Church, which is the Dominican church in Krakow. The Dominicans were hosting the relics of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and pilgrims were allowed to come in and pray in front of his casket. I was asked to share a reflection on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati during our prayer service. It was amazing to share my relationship with this saint with hundreds of other pilgrims who were packed in the church. I focused on the meaning of his famous phrase “Verso l’alto” or “Always upward.” I reminded those who were praying in the church that day that we are called for greater things. We are called to always look towards God and share his love in everything we do.

For more information on World Youth Day, visit or follow @WYDUSA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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