Panama City, Panama | A profound lesson learned by the Diocese of Venice pilgrims as they took part in an epic journey to World Youth Day 2019 in Panama was that they were all part of something larger than themselves.
From Jan. 19-28, 66 pilgrims were joined by Bishop Frank J. Dewane to experience and learn of the Panamanian culture, while also seeing the Lord in many great things.
A major highlight for the young pilgrims included a close encounter with Pope Francis’ motorcade. Being near the pope further fueled their faith and their enthusiasm.
Bishop Dewane met with the group at their hotel each morning and saw a change in them as the week progressed. At a dinner following the Mass that closed World Youth Day 2019, the bishop acknowledged that the young men and women had grasped the sacredness of the moment and they now had a new realization of the idea of the universal and local churches.
“It was wonderful to see how excited everyone was,” Bishop Dewane said. “The young people shared how they felt, which can be difficult. However, this showed how immersed they were in the experience of this holy journey and being among friends who they could trust.”
The young people heard the message of Pope Francis who said they are an important part of society and their gifts from the Lord are to be used now, not later.
Videos of the brief encounter with Pope Francis showed the pure joy of the moment for the youth. For example, Alexandra of St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres said that “seeing the Vicar of Christ in the flesh was beyond amazing, beyond anything I could imagine.”
Arianna of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers described her entire experience as “truly an opportunity to encounter Christ…to encounter love, to encounter peace, and most importantly, to realize they are all one in the same.”
The Diocese group included representatives from eight parishes: San Marco Parish in Marco Island, St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston, St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral, St. Francis Xavier Parish in Fort Myers, St. Agnes and St. William parishes in Naples, Our Lady of Light of Fort Myers, and St. Raphael in Lehigh Acres. Leading them throughout the week was Nina Kozuik, the Diocese director for youth and young adults.
Koziuk said the entire journey brought the Diocesan group closer together as they shared incredible spiritual experiences — Mass, prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, listening to articulate speakers and talented musicians and an epic 10-mile journey to the Saturday vigil at St. John Paul II Park.
During his talk, the bishop challenged all of the young people in attendance to be true servants of the Lord, because as children of God, all are called to serve the Lord. The challenge is figuring out how.
“You don’t have to be old to serve the Lord,” Bishop Dewane said, citing examples of Jesus, St. John Bosco, St. Jose Sanchez del Rio and St. Joan of Arc. “Christ gave the ultimate service by washing the apostle’s feet. These others did so much when they were so young. What are you doing in service to the Lord?”
One way to figure out how to be of service is by growing in your relationship with the Lord, Bishop Dewane added. “Do you want to be friends with Jesus?” the Bishop asked. The response was an exuberant, “Yes.”
“As with growing any friendship, talking to each other is important,” the bishop said. “The Lord provides an easy avenue for that through prayer.”
Colin from St. Raphael described Panama as a place where making friends is easy. Bruce, also from St. Raphael, learned to be courageous and to respect others and put trust in God and his son Jesus Christ.
Carice from St. Raphael said the World Youth Day journey was “a reminder that, in Mary, we are all called to holiness and to imitate her always.”
Joseph from Our Lady of Light described the experience as amazing, changing his perspective in his life and the world. “I experienced growth in every aspect,” he said. “I could feel God was there and had no sense of time just such peace.”
One group leader said words frequently mentioned during nightly reflections were: love, God’s will, trusting God, and serving.