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Catholic News

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alexandre Meneghini, ReutersBy David AgrenCIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (CNS) -- At this normally bustling border crossing between Mexico and Guatemala, Central American migrants -- part of a caravan that set out Jan. 15 from San Pedro Sula, Honduras -- sat patiently on folding chairs in the shade. Mexican immigration officials distributed bottles of water, while members of the navy served meals of simple stew and slices of white bread.When their names were read from a list, they proceeded to pick up one-year humanitarian visas, which allow them to freely travel through Mexico, work in the country and claim social benefits such as health care and education."I didn't know they'd give us a visa," said Josue Giron, 22, a welder from Honduras, who fled with the caravan after not being able make extortion payments."We didn't believe it," he added, pointing out that police in Honduras and border officials in Guatemala tried to stop the caravan's progress. &qu...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters

By David Agren

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (CNS) -- At this normally bustling border crossing between Mexico and Guatemala, Central American migrants -- part of a caravan that set out Jan. 15 from San Pedro Sula, Honduras -- sat patiently on folding chairs in the shade. Mexican immigration officials distributed bottles of water, while members of the navy served meals of simple stew and slices of white bread.

When their names were read from a list, they proceeded to pick up one-year humanitarian visas, which allow them to freely travel through Mexico, work in the country and claim social benefits such as health care and education.

"I didn't know they'd give us a visa," said Josue Giron, 22, a welder from Honduras, who fled with the caravan after not being able make extortion payments.

"We didn't believe it," he added, pointing out that police in Honduras and border officials in Guatemala tried to stop the caravan's progress. "We thought it was a trick. No government has wanted to help us."

Mexico awaited the arrival of past caravans by deploying police and closing the border, prompting migrants to ford the Suchiate River, which separates Mexico and Guatemala.

This time, however, the new administration of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has promised humanitarian visas, which are supposed to be processed within five days. Applicants can also wait in shelters set up for them while their paperwork is processed.

More than 14,000 migrants have applied for the humanitarian visas, Mexico's National Immigration Institute tweeted Jan. 27. Long lines of applicants were still forming on the bridge connecting Mexico and Guatemala, according to media photos.

In announcing the plan, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said issuing humanitarian visas would allow for "orderly" migration and ensure migrants' rights were protected.

The issuing of humanitarian visas on the southern border comes as Mexico prepares to receive migrants applying for asylum in the United States.

Under the scheme known as "Remain in Mexico," migrants with asylum claims in U.S. courts will have to stay south of the border as their cases proceed. Mexican's foreign ministry objected to the plan but was going along with it.

Scalabrinian Father Pat Murphy panned the idea of returning asylum seekers to border towns, saying such places are often rife with violence, and migrants are targeted.

"It's a joke to say it's a safe country, and these people will be taken advantage of," said Father Murphy, director of a migrant shelter in Tijuana. "The government here couldn't take care of the last caravan in a decent way. It's a mystery to me what they think they're going to do with all these people arriving."

Some Catholics working with the Central Americans traveling through Mexico welcomed the issuing of humanitarian visas, however, even as they expressed misgivings over the formation of caravans -- something Father Murphy said gave many migrants "false hope" about crossing the border quickly.

"The treatment the government is giving to migrants is correct: welcome, registration, migratory status regularization and offers of work," Father Alejandro Solalinde, a well-known migrant defender, tweeted about the humanitarian visas. "They can travel securely to wherever they want and in the way they want to."

Father Solalinde has emerged as an unlikely critic of the caravans crossing the country. He previously told Catholic News Service that participants in past caravans -- which were accompanied by the migrant-advocacy organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras -- disregarded information offered to them on the difficulties of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The priest also counseled migrants that conditions were not favorable for trying to cross the border.

"There's no reason to 'caravanize' the flow of migrants," he said. "It would only help Trump."

U.S. President Donald Trump has tweeted his displeasure with the caravans attempting to reach the U.S. border and accused governments in Mexico and Central America of doing nothing to stop them.

Polls show Mexicans have less support for welcoming caravans. In the Guatemalan border city of Tecun Uman, opposite Ciudad Hidalgo, a masked mob armed with sticks attacked migrants congregating in the town square Jan. 27, acting on threats spread via social media and messaging services.

Scalabrinian Father Fernando Cuevas, director of a Tecun Uman migrant shelter, said townspeople objected to some migrants occupying the town square, which diminished sales in local businesses.

The church there has been serving 600 meals twice a day to migrants and providing shelter to them as they wait to apply for visas in Mexico.

Despite the difficulties, caravans continue to form, which migration observers attribute to poverty, violence and drought in Central America. The caravans also offer perceptions of protection as migrants move in large numbers, along with a way to cut out the cost of hiring a smuggler.

"The people traveling in the caravan are the poorest migrants," said Carlos Lopez, an official with the Scalabrinian migrant shelter in Guatemala City. "They're the ones that can't pay for 'coyotes,'" as human smugglers are called.

Travelers in the most recent caravan do not seem dissuaded by the possible problems at the U.S. border.

Giron, the Honduran migrant from near San Pedro Sula, said he had to pay $12 a week to gangsters in a country where work was irregular and he was having a hard time making ends meet.

He hopes to work in northern Mexico, where factory work is abundant, and earn enough to pay a smuggler to help him cross into the United States.

"If they capture me," he said of crossing into the United States, "I'll claim asylum."

Others held out hope Trump would have a change of heart.

"If President Trump gives us the opportunity to work, that's what we'll do," said Orlando Moran, 53, a bricklayer from El Salvador. "I'm sure God will allow it."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul HaringBy Junno Arocho EstevesABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM PANAMA (CNS) -- The primary goal of the Vatican's February summit on clerical sexual abuse and child protection is to help bishops understand the urgency of the crisis, Pope Francis said.During a news conference with journalists Jan. 27 on his flight to Rome from Panama, the pope said the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences have been called to the Feb. 21-24 meeting at the Vatican to be "made aware of the tragedy" of those abused by members of the clergy."I regularly meet with people who have been abused. I remember one person -- 40 years old -- who was unable to pray," he said. "It is terrible, the suffering is terrible. So first, they (the bishops) need to be made aware of this."The pope's international Council of Cardinals suggested the summit after realizing that some bishops did not know how to address or handle the crisis on their own, he said."We felt...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM PANAMA (CNS) -- The primary goal of the Vatican's February summit on clerical sexual abuse and child protection is to help bishops understand the urgency of the crisis, Pope Francis said.

During a news conference with journalists Jan. 27 on his flight to Rome from Panama, the pope said the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences have been called to the Feb. 21-24 meeting at the Vatican to be "made aware of the tragedy" of those abused by members of the clergy.

"I regularly meet with people who have been abused. I remember one person -- 40 years old -- who was unable to pray," he said. "It is terrible, the suffering is terrible. So first, they (the bishops) need to be made aware of this."

The pope's international Council of Cardinals suggested the summit after realizing that some bishops did not know how to address or handle the crisis on their own, he said.

"We felt the responsibility of giving a 'catechesis' on this problem to the bishops' conferences," he said. "That is why we convoked the presidents" of the conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches and representatives of the leadership groups of men's and women's religious orders.

The meeting, he said, will address "in a clear way" what protocols bishops need to follow when handling sexual abuse.

Asked about the expectations for the meeting, especially the expectations of Catholics who have grown frustrated with the repeated reports of abuse and cover-up by some bishops, the pope said people need to realize "the problem of abuse will continue."

"It is a human problem, a human problem (that is) everywhere," he said.

But if the church becomes more aware of the tragedy of sexual abuse, the pope said, it can help others face the crisis of abuse, especially in families "where shame leads to covering up everything."

Speaking with journalists for nearly an hour, the pope was asked whether he would consider a general acceptance of married men into the Latin-rite priesthood in a way similar to the practice of the Eastern Catholic churches.

"In the Eastern rite, they can do it. They make the choice between celibacy or marriage before they're ordained into the diaconate," he explained. "When it comes to the Latin rite, a phrase said by St. Paul VI comes to mind: 'I would rather give my life than change the law on celibacy.'"

The pope said he personally believes that "celibacy is gift to the church" and that while the prospect of married priests could one day be considered in remote areas that lack priests, he did not agree "with allowing optional celibacy."

"My decision is: no optional celibacy," the pope said. "I will not do this. I don't feel like I could stand before God with this decision."

Pope Francis also was asked about his response to the political crisis in Venezuela as well as the Vatican's seemingly neutral stance despite widespread belief that the election giving a second term to President Nicolas Maduro was rigged.

Earlier in the day, while visiting a Catholic-run hospice in Panama, the pope prayed for the people of Venezuela and expressed his hope that a "just and peaceful solution may be sought and achieved to overcome the crisis."

Although the United States and several European countries have recognized National Assembly President Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate head of state, the Vatican has not.

Pope Francis told journalists that while he fully supports the suffering people of Venezuela, picking a side in the crisis "would be pastoral imprudence on my part and would cause damage."

"That is why I had to be -- I don't like the word 'balanced' -- I must be a shepherd to all and if they need help, then they must come to an agreement and ask for it," he said.

The pope said that he thought carefully about his words to the people of the country because "I suffer for what is happening in Venezuela in this moment."

"What is it that scares me? Bloodshed," the pope said. "And that is why I ask for generosity from those who can help resolve the problem."

Pope Francis also addressed the issue of abortion, which was among the themes of the Via Crucis at World Youth Day Jan. 25.

During the 14th Station -- Jesus is laid in his tomb -- a young pilgrim read a reflection on all the tombs where those who have died violent deaths have been laid. "However," the reflection said, "there is one tomb that cries to heaven and denounces the terrible cruelty of humanity: it is the tomb that opens in the wombs of mothers who rip out innocent life."

Asked how the words could be in harmony with his calls for mercy, including for women who have had abortions, Pope Francis said that the "message of mercy is for everyone, including the human being that is gestating."

Forgiving women who have had abortions is not the problem, he said; rather it is learning to accompany women who have understood and regret what they have done.

People do not understand the trauma women go through after an abortion, the pope said. Often those who regret their abortions "feel the need to reconcile and rejoin their child."

"I tell them, 'Your child is in heaven, talk to him, sing them the lullaby you were never able to sing to them,'" Pope Francis said. "There, a path of reconciliation can be found between mother and child. Forgiveness with God is already there. God always forgives."

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz MuthBy Rhina GuidosPANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Just before leaving the physical and human warmth of Panama Jan. 27, Pope Francis stopped to thank the thousands of official volunteers, young and old, gathered at the capital city's Rommel Fernandez Stadium to tell them that they had just participated in an event similar to one that took place early in Christianity.  In their case, they didn't just multiply food, he said."You could have easily chosen to do other things, but you wanted to be involved, to give your best to making possible the miracle of the multiplication, not only of loaves, but also hope," he said, telling the volunteers to go out into the world and make that attitude contagious. "We need to multiply that hope."Volunteers at Panama's World Youth Day showed it was possible to renounce one's interests in favor of others, the pope said."You made a commitment," he said. "Thank you."On stage, before the pope spoke, Bar...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Just before leaving the physical and human warmth of Panama Jan. 27, Pope Francis stopped to thank the thousands of official volunteers, young and old, gathered at the capital city's Rommel Fernandez Stadium to tell them that they had just participated in an event similar to one that took place early in Christianity.  

In their case, they didn't just multiply food, he said.

"You could have easily chosen to do other things, but you wanted to be involved, to give your best to making possible the miracle of the multiplication, not only of loaves, but also hope," he said, telling the volunteers to go out into the world and make that attitude contagious. "We need to multiply that hope."

Volunteers at Panama's World Youth Day showed it was possible to renounce one's interests in favor of others, the pope said.

"You made a commitment," he said. "Thank you."

On stage, before the pope spoke, Bartosz Placak of Poland offered his testimony in Spanish to those gathered at the stadium and said that while volunteering for World Youth Day in Panama, he had experienced a taste of what living in the early Christian communities must have been like: sharing food, homes, anything other people needed.

"In sharing, you create a small community and we return to the times of the first Christians ... we follow their example," he said.

Panamanian volunteer Stella Maris del Carmen told the story of how she had planned to attend the previous World Youth Day, an event she'd longed to attend since she was a child. She had saved enough money to go to Poland in 2016 and then her grandparents died. She canceled her plans and used the money she had saved to tend to her family.

The pope said he was touched by her story. By renouncing the trip for the family, "you honored your roots," the pope told her. "That's what makes you a woman, an adult." But then consider what happened because of that sacrifice, he said.

"The Lord had the gift of (World Youth Day) waiting for you in your homeland," he said. "The Lord likes to play those tricks. That's how God is."

What a person gives to others "the Lord returns" many times over, he said. And the world needs more such examples of surrender and love to provide a "balm in the lives of others," he said.

Panamanians certainly had heeded that counsel long before the event.

World Youth Day 2019 in Panama may not have been the largest, in terms of attendance. Event officials say some 113,000 registered as pilgrims to attend various events -- though it was obvious that many more who did not register filled up the venues.

What the event in Panama may -- or may not -- have lacked in numbers, it made up for in its treatment of young pilgrims. Priests, bishops, women religious and thousands of volunteers, young and old, officially and unofficially, seemed to devote more quality time to participants than in the past, said pilgrims such as Francisco Apenu Cofie of Ghana.

"It was more intimate," said Cofie, who attended World Youth Day in Poland and Brazil. Panama had a special touch, he said.

Those like Polish volunteer Placak said it was not always easy to help and admitted moments of weakness, but he said he learned powerful lessons along the way.

"I have received more than what I expected, and this is the mystery of the divine gifts. I am happy," he said.

Though the pope spent time with the volunteers who attended the ceremony at the stadium, there were thousands of other unofficial helpers, such as those who offered water to pilgrims passing through their neighborhoods, who sprayed them with water hoses to cool them off, and offered use of their facilities or couches to rest, but who did not attend the event.

"Thank you all, because in these days you have been attentive to even the smallest details, however ordinary and apparently insignificant, like offering someone a glass of water," the pope said to volunteers at the ceremony.

In giving to others, God blesses, the pope said,

"You have had a more lively and real experience of faith. You have experienced the strength born of prayer and a new and different kind of joy, the fruit of working side by side even with people you did not know," he said.

There were many moments when volunteers did not understand the pilgrims or vice versa but, by and large, most did not let that stop them from attempting to communicate with one another.

Panamanians outwardly celebrated pilgrims from various visiting countries, spontaneously shouting out the name of the nation as they spotted them carrying their respective flags on the streets of their city.

One of the gifts of Panama's World Youth Day, El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz told Catholic News Service, is that at a time when some in the world are embracing nationalism, the international Catholic festival for youth, in which 156 countries participated, delivered the opposite message. People from different countries, who spoke different languages and had different customs and practices, managed to unite around faith and serving others.

"World Youth Day says, 'We're one family of humanity,'" Bishop Seitz said. "Separating ourselves from others does not make us secure."

 

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul HaringBy Junno Arocho EstevesPANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis prayed that a peaceful solution may be found in Venezuela as uncertainty and political instability grip the country.After praying the Angelus Jan. 27 with residents and workers at the Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano, a hospice for HIV/AIDS patients, the pope said he is "united with the people of Venezuela in these days.""In front of the grave situation (Venezuela) is going through, I ask the Lord that a just and peaceful solution may be sought and achieved to overcome the crisis," he said.More than two dozen have died following mass demonstrations against newly sworn in incumbent President Nicolas Maduro.Following Maduro's inauguration, which many alleged was illegal due to vote rigging, many world leaders officially recognized Juan Guaido, president of the opposition-led legislature, as president. However, Maduro has refused to bow out."Respecting human rights and particular...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis prayed that a peaceful solution may be found in Venezuela as uncertainty and political instability grip the country.

After praying the Angelus Jan. 27 with residents and workers at the Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano, a hospice for HIV/AIDS patients, the pope said he is "united with the people of Venezuela in these days."

"In front of the grave situation (Venezuela) is going through, I ask the Lord that a just and peaceful solution may be sought and achieved to overcome the crisis," he said.

More than two dozen have died following mass demonstrations against newly sworn in incumbent President Nicolas Maduro.

Following Maduro's inauguration, which many alleged was illegal due to vote rigging, many world leaders officially recognized Juan Guaido, president of the opposition-led legislature, as president. However, Maduro has refused to bow out.

"Respecting human rights and particularly hoping for the good of all the inhabitants of the country, I invite you to pray, placing this intercession under the protection of Our Lady of Coromoto, patroness of Venezuela," the pope said.

Pope Francis also denounced the Jan. 27 bombing of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Philippines. Two bombs blasted the cathedral during Sunday Mass, killing 20 people and wounding dozens more.

Entrusting the victims of the attack to Jesus and Mary, the pope reiterated "my strongest condemnation for this episode of violence that once again strikes this Christian community."

"I raise my prayers for the dead and wounded. May the Lord, prince of peace, convert the hearts of the violent and give the inhabitants of that region a peaceful coexistence," he said.

The pope also said he offered the final Mass of World Youth Day for the souls of the 10 victims of the Jan. 17 suicide bomb attack at a police academy in Bogota, Colombia.

Visibly moved, the pope asked the residents of the HIV/AIDS hospice to join him in remembering those who died in the attack by saying "present" as he read the names of the victims.

"May they be present before God," the pope said.

Also present at hourlong meeting with the pope were young people from the John Paul II Center, a hospice for people addicted to drugs and alcohol, as well as Hogar San Jose, a house for the poor run by the Missionaries of Charity and the Kkottongnae religious congregation, and the Malambo House, an orphanage for young girls.

Residents and staff cheered "Vive Jesus el Senor" ("Long live, Jesus the Lord") as the pope arrived at the Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano.

Sister Lourdes Reis, a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and director of Malambo House, held a bouquet of roses as she and Father Domingo Escobar, director of Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano, welcomed Pope Francis.

Seated in front of a banner depicting the Good Samaritan tending to the wounds of a bruised man, a young boy welcomed the pope through song. Wearing a Franciscan friars costume, the young boy serenaded Pope Francis with his rendition of St. Francis' peace prayer.

"Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is offense, let me bring pardon," the boy sang as the pope looked on.

Thanking the directors and pastoral workers, the pope said the help provided at the centers was "a sign of the new life that the Lord wants to give us."

"It is easy to confirm the faith of some of our brothers and sisters when we see it at work in anointing wounds, renewing hope and encouraging faith," he said. "Nor are those we might call the 'primary beneficiaries' of your homes the only ones to be reborn; here the church and the faith are also born and continually recreated through love."

Reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan, the pope said Jesus calls on all people to "move from our fixed ways of doing things and our priorities" and take a moment to stop to care for one's neighbor.

The man left battered and bruised on the road, he noted, was nearly killed not just by the brutality of bandits "but also by the indifference of a priest and a Levite who could not be bothered to come to his aid."

Indifference "can also wound and kill. Some for a few miserable coins, others for fear of becoming unclean."

Pope Francis said places like the Good Samaritan Home and Hogar San Jose were signs "of God's concrete mercy and tender love, a living sign of the good news of the resurrection that even now is at work in our lives."

"To be here is to touch the maternal face of the church, which is capable of prophesying and creating a home, creating community," he said.

Before praying the Angelus, the pope entrusted the patients and volunteers to Mary, asking that, through her intercession, Christians may discover "who our neighbors are, and to help us go out quickly to meet them, to give them a home, an embrace, where care and fraternal love meet."

"I encourage you now to place beneath her mantle all your concerns and needs, all your sorrows and hurts," he said, "so that, as a Good Samaritan, she will come to us and aid us by her maternal love and with her smile, the smile of a mother."

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul HaringBy Junno Arocho EstevesPANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Lisbon, Portugal, will open its doors to the world's young people in 2022 for the next World Youth Day.The announcement of Portugal was made by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, at the final Mass of World Youth Day Jan. 27. World Youth Day officials confirmed the year and city.Upon hearing the location of the next celebration, Portuguese erupted in cheers, waving their country's flag and chanting "We are the pope's youth!"Pope Francis then greeted Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who attended the Mass.In the early morning hours, pilgrims were awakened by sounds of upbeat music as the hot Panamanian sun rose. Despite the heat, the pilgrims danced and sang along, awaiting Pope Francis' arrival.In his homily, Pope Francis encouraged young Catholics to be engaged in the world today to ensure a better tomorrow."You, dear young people, ...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Lisbon, Portugal, will open its doors to the world's young people in 2022 for the next World Youth Day.

The announcement of Portugal was made by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, at the final Mass of World Youth Day Jan. 27. World Youth Day officials confirmed the year and city.

Upon hearing the location of the next celebration, Portuguese erupted in cheers, waving their country's flag and chanting "We are the pope's youth!"

Pope Francis then greeted Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who attended the Mass.

In the early morning hours, pilgrims were awakened by sounds of upbeat music as the hot Panamanian sun rose. Despite the heat, the pilgrims danced and sang along, awaiting Pope Francis' arrival.

In his homily, Pope Francis encouraged young Catholics to be engaged in the world today to ensure a better tomorrow.

"You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God. He invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you," he said.

The pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Luke in which Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming in the synagogue that "this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Proclaiming the Good News of God's promise to free captives and the oppressed was an important moment in Jesus' life, the pope said.

Nevertheless, he continued, many of those in the synagogue were incredulous and not prepared "to believe in someone they knew and had seen grow up."

"The same thing can also happen with us. We do not always believe that God can be that concrete and commonplace, that close and real, and much less that he can become so present and work through somebody like a neighbor, a friend, a relative," the pope said.

Young people, he warned, risk looking at their mission, vocation and even their lives as something far off in the future and "having nothing to do with the present" while adults can fall into the trap of inventing a "hygienically sealed future without consequence where everything is safe, secure and 'well insured.'"

"The Lord and his mission are not a 'meantime' in our life, something temporary. They are our life," Pope Francis said. "Do you want to live out your love in a practical way? May your 'yes' continue to be the gateway for the Holy Spirit to give us a new Pentecost for the world and for the church."

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz MuthBy Rhina GuidosPANAMA CITY (CNS) -- As thousands of pilgrims streamed through the neighborhood of Las Acacias en route to the World Day Youth vigil, those from Nicaragua and Venezuela received special cheers and applause as they carried the flags of their respective countries."Venezuela without Maduro!" someone yelled in the crowd as the pilgrims carried the flag of the South American nation."Thank you, Panama!" they yelled back.Venezuela is facing political upheaval, including some attempts at deposing President Nicolas Maduro, and a spiraling political and economic crisis.Likewise, Nicaraguans carrying their flag received loud cheers as they went by. The Catholic Church in that country has been trying to broker peace after a proposal to change the social security system in 2018 unleashed pent-up frustration over the administration of President Daniel Ortega.The political situations of Nicaragua and Venezuela have been difficult to avo...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- As thousands of pilgrims streamed through the neighborhood of Las Acacias en route to the World Day Youth vigil, those from Nicaragua and Venezuela received special cheers and applause as they carried the flags of their respective countries.

"Venezuela without Maduro!" someone yelled in the crowd as the pilgrims carried the flag of the South American nation.

"Thank you, Panama!" they yelled back.

Venezuela is facing political upheaval, including some attempts at deposing President Nicolas Maduro, and a spiraling political and economic crisis.

Likewise, Nicaraguans carrying their flag received loud cheers as they went by. The Catholic Church in that country has been trying to broker peace after a proposal to change the social security system in 2018 unleashed pent-up frustration over the administration of President Daniel Ortega.

The political situations of Nicaragua and Venezuela have been difficult to avoid at World Youth Day. Groups of young pilgrims from both nations spontaneously chanted cheers of "Libertad, Libertad!" ("freedom, freedom!"), an expression for which they could be jailed or physically hurt in their home countries.

But the solidarity of the Panamanians was not limited to the political realm.

Residents of Las Acacias neighborhood, which curls around to the venue where the pope joined young people for the Jan. 26 vigil and the Jan. 27 closing Mass, turned out in full force, with banners and water hoses to cool off the pilgrims. Some offered the use of their living rooms, patios and even restrooms for the young Catholics streaming through.

"This is a great blessing to have them here, to have so many of them praying the rosary, singing for us as they go by," said Elba de Aguero, a resident of Las Acacias.

She showed off a cache of presents some of the pilgrims had dropped off: prayer cards of St. Oscar Romero, stickers from Brazil, a refrigerator magnet from Dubai.

Residents Diego de Gracia and Mauricio Nieto helped hoist a banner on a traffic island in the neighborhood that said: "Welcome, pilgrims." They cheered the groups marching through, shaking hands and offering high-fives.

"They have brought us so much life, harmony and peace," Nieto told Catholic News Service Jan. 26. "They're a blessing."

While in some countries the thought of tourists coming through leads people to close the doors or leave town altogether, Panamanians welcomed the religious pilgrims. They took to the streets and city parks to teach pilgrims traditional dances, how to use the subway system, and some even physically carried overheated pilgrims who were not used to the heat and humidity into places such as beauty salons to recover.

"We are all brothers and sisters in Christ," said de Aguero, "why shouldn't we help?"

A local mosque provided free water to pilgrims en route to an opening event for the pope, and other religious groups -- including Hindus -- also pitched in to help.

Elizabeth Kaeufer, 18, of Akureyri, Iceland, said the 2016 World Youth Day in Poland was wonderful, but there was something about the warmth of people in Panama.

She said she loved the shows of expression, the spontaneous dancing and singing on the streets, the feeling that there are no strangers. On Panama City's metro, Latin American pilgrims broke out in song, with guitars and other instruments, en route to the vigil.

"You feel like you're a part of something huge," Kaeufer said, "something, a feeling that's the same for so many people."

For U.S. pilgrims Sebastian Martin, 18, and Jessica Martinez, 24, of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, that feeling was about something more personal.

"I want to stay true to who I am" as a Christian, said Martin, a college freshman, and that was his reason for attending the event.

For Martinez, a teacher, coming to Panama brought her into contact with a wider world of languages and people with different customs and practices but who share her faith. She said attending World Youth Day was about forming a deeper relationship with God -- a unique, hard-to-describe feeling she finds while among her peers.

"I want to grow my faith in God," she said.

 

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul HaringBy Junno Arocho EstevesPANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Although Mary would not be considered an "influencer," like many social media personalities, she still became the most influential woman in history by trusting "in the love and promises of God, the only force capable of making all things new," Pope Francis told young people at the World Youth Day prayer vigil Jan. 26."Are you willing to be an 'influencer' like Mary, who dared to say, 'Let it be done'?" he asked. "Only love makes us more human and fulfilled; everything else is a pleasant but useless placebo."Despite sweltering temperatures in Panama City, hundreds of thousands of young men and women made their way to St. John Paul II Park on the penultimate day of World Youth Day. They brought sleeping bags and tents, prepared to spend the night at the field -- praying the rosary, making new friends -- before celebrating Mass with Pope Francis at 8 a.m. Jan. 27. The pope d...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Although Mary would not be considered an "influencer," like many social media personalities, she still became the most influential woman in history by trusting "in the love and promises of God, the only force capable of making all things new," Pope Francis told young people at the World Youth Day prayer vigil Jan. 26.

"Are you willing to be an 'influencer' like Mary, who dared to say, 'Let it be done'?" he asked. "Only love makes us more human and fulfilled; everything else is a pleasant but useless placebo."

Despite sweltering temperatures in Panama City, hundreds of thousands of young men and women made their way to St. John Paul II Park on the penultimate day of World Youth Day. They brought sleeping bags and tents, prepared to spend the night at the field -- praying the rosary, making new friends -- before celebrating Mass with Pope Francis at 8 a.m. Jan. 27. The pope did not spend the night, but returned later in the evening to the apostolic nunciature.

Arriving in his popemobile, Pope Francis made his way through a sea of colorful flags and banners people waved excitedly.

After the pope took his place on the stage, young adults from Panama and the Palestinian territories gave their experiences of finding faith and hope amid doubt, sickness and addiction.

Erika de Bucktron, a 42-year-old mother of four from Panama, spoke of the fear and difficulties she faced when doctors said her pregnancy was at high risk after diagnosing her unborn daughter with Down syndrome.

Throughout her pregnancy, she said, she and her husband abandoned themselves in God's hands and, after the birth of their daughter, decided "to love her with all our hearts, without making any difference with our other children, who also welcomed her with so much love."

Panamanian Alfredo Martinez Andrion, 20, recalled his experience of falling into a life of drugs and crime. His addiction, he said, ultimately led to a 12-month prison sentence. Despite attempts to reform following his release, he fell back again into drug use.

Ultimately, he found help at a Catholic-run halfway house that helped and encouraged him "in my path toward reintegration."

"I want to tell the young people of the world that God loves us and never abandons us. We are the masters of our own actions, but if we are with God, everything will be OK," Martinez said.

Nirmeen Odeh, a 26-year-old Palestinian woman, gave the final testimony of the evening, recalling that despite being born and raised in the Holy Land, she was apathetic to Christianity, especially coming "from a place where many of my simple rights are violated."

"I thought it was better to be distant from Christianity so as not to be bothered by others," Odeh said. "With all the struggles and weariness of daily life, I wasn't interested in faith. However, I was curious about the idea of God! It fascinated me."

After participating in World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, Odeh said she took a "leap of faith" and began receiving the sacraments.

"And here I am today, three years later in Panama, excitedly praying for him (God) to lead me on my next journey," she said.

After listening to their experiences, Pope Francis addressed the youths, saying that their experiences reflected the risk Mary took to say "yes" to God.

The salvation that God wishes to give his children, he said, isn't a file in the cloud waiting to be downloaded or the latest app, but rather is an invitation to be "part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us."

However, Christians can only obtain this salvation by placing their trust in God, especially in moments of uncertainty, doubt and trial.

Recalling the experience given by de Bucktron, the pope said the fears and difficulties the couple faced with the birth of her daughter meant embracing life, even "in accepting things that are not perfect, pure or 'distilled,' yet no less worthy of love," he said.

"Is a disabled or frail person not worthy of love?" the pope asked. "Is a person who happens to be a foreigner, a person who made a mistake, a person ill or in prison, not worthy of love?"

God begins to write his great love story precisely through people's problems, frailties and flaws, the pope said. Just as he embraced Peter after his denials, Jesus helps Christians stand up when they have fallen, the pope added.

Thanking Martinez for his testimony, Pope Francis said the experience of the young Panamanian shows that, without strong roots that are firmly grounded, "it is impossible to grow."

Older people, he continued, must ask themselves what foundations they are providing to help young people grow instead of lobbing criticisms against them.

"It is easy enough to criticize and complain about young people if we are depriving them of the jobs, education and community opportunities they need to take root and to dream of a future," he said.

"Without education, it is difficult to dream of a future; without work, it is very difficult to dream of a future; without a family and community, it is almost impossible to dream of a future."

The pope said that young men and women also need to be rooted in a community and a home that prepares their hearts and give them a sense of belonging.

Odeh's experience, he explained, is proof that this belonging also gives a sense of identity that allows young people to "live the joy that comes from being found by Jesus."

Pope Francis encouraged young people to not be afraid of opening their hearts to Christ and "embrace life with all its frailty and flaws, but also with its grandeur and beauty.

"Do not be afraid," he said, "to tell him that you, too, want to be a part of his love story in this world, that you are ready for something greater."

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican MediaBy Junno Arocho EstevesPANAMA CITY (CNS) -- While sharing a private lunch with pilgrims from around the world, Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and emphasized the need for unity and prayer, a U.S. pilgrim said.Brenda Noriega, a youth minister from the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, told journalists Jan. 26 that although the experience of sharing a meal with the pope was "amazing," she said the crisis facing the Catholic Church in the United States was an issue "that we couldn't avoid talking about."The pope, she said, "reminded us that it was important to accompany the victims, that it is important to walk with the people and to be present to them. That it is important for us to be a church, a united church. And that for me -- as a representative of the U.S. and a minister of young people -- it means a lot."Noriega was among the group of 10 pilgrims -- five...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- While sharing a private lunch with pilgrims from around the world, Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and emphasized the need for unity and prayer, a U.S. pilgrim said.

Brenda Noriega, a youth minister from the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, told journalists Jan. 26 that although the experience of sharing a meal with the pope was "amazing," she said the crisis facing the Catholic Church in the United States was an issue "that we couldn't avoid talking about."

The pope, she said, "reminded us that it was important to accompany the victims, that it is important to walk with the people and to be present to them. That it is important for us to be a church, a united church. And that for me -- as a representative of the U.S. and a minister of young people -- it means a lot."

Noriega was among the group of 10 pilgrims -- five men and five women -- chosen to share a meal with the pope at St. Joseph's Major Seminary in Panama.

The young adults who later spoke to journalists were from the United States, Australia, the Palestinian territories, Burkina Faso, India, Spain and Panama. Each participant was given the opportunity to ask Pope Francis a question.

Noriega said it was important for her to ask the pope about the abuse crisis. His affirmation of the church's support for survivors of sexual abuse, she said, was important to hear.

She also said Pope Francis emphasized the need for a more pastoral church, as well as the importance of prayer in discerning the best way to counter the culture of abuse and cover-up that has plagued the Catholic Church in the United States and abroad.

"What Pope Francis wants us to do in the United States," Noriega told journalists, "is to pray and that, before making any committees, before making any decisions, we need to pray."

She added that the pope's call to prayer was meaningful for her as a youth minister in her diocese.

"Youth ministers, we've been with the people, we've been angry, but sometimes we forget about prayer, because we react too easily and too fast," Noriega said. "What I think the Holy Father is telling us, to the church, is to first pray and to build the communion, and not forget about accompaniment."

It means keeping "in mind that all the victims of the sexual (abuse) crisis are hurt and that the church is committed to support them and that the church is committed to walk with them," Noriega said.

The sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, she recalled the pope saying, "is a horrible crime" and "the church does not support these types of crimes."

Noriega, who was born and raised in Mexico before moving to California, told journalists that representing Catholic young people in United States at the private lunch was a special moment.

"Maybe you are wondering," she told journalists, "why is the representative of the U.S. 'toda morenita' (all brown)? The new face of the Catholic Church in the United States has my face. It is Hispanic."

Noting that an estimated 60 percent of U.S. Catholics under age 18 are Hispanic, Noriega said her representing the country was a way for the U.S. church to say, "We are with the Hispanic community, we are ready to let you be protagonists of Catholicism in the United States."

The other young adults also took the opportunities to address issues facing Catholics in their homelands.

Dana George Daoud Salah, a young woman from the Palestinian territories, expressed her concerns regarding Christians leaving her country and what that would mean for the church.

"He told me, 'Palestine is the homeland of Jesus Christ. Palestine will always remain the land of Jesus, and Christians will always remain.' He said he is going to help us and unite us more so that we can preserve our existence in the land," she said.

Bedwin Taitus K of India told journalists he initially was nervous, but he became at ease and was moved when the pope told him that "he takes India in his heart and deeply cares for India."

Taitus also said his question for Pope Francis was "very different" than that of his peers.

"I asked him how many hours does he sleep," Taitus said. "He laughed and he told me he sleeps for six hours. I told him that I would pray for you that every day you sleep peacefully."

The pope's response to his offer for prayer, Taitus recalled, "was very thought-provoking."

"He told us, 'You have to take care of your Holy Father.' So, I had a very beautiful experience."

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, ReutersBy Junno Arocho EstevesPANAMA CITY (CNS) -- A church wounded by sin can paralyze, confuse and tire the hearts of Catholic clergy and laypeople, causing them to doubt their mission in the modern world, Pope Francis said.Celebrating Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria La Antigua Jan. 26 with priests, consecrated men and women and members of lay movements, the pope warned that the burdens and troubles in the church can lead to a "weariness of hope" that "calls into question the energy, resources and viability of our mission in this changing and challenging world.""The weariness of hope comes from seeing a church wounded by sin, which so often failed to hear all those cries that echoed the cry of the Master: 'My God, why have you forsaken me?'" he said.Thousands of pilgrims and Panamanians waited outside -- some camped outside since 4 a.m. -- cheering loudly as the bells of the cathedral hailed Pope Fra...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- A church wounded by sin can paralyze, confuse and tire the hearts of Catholic clergy and laypeople, causing them to doubt their mission in the modern world, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria La Antigua Jan. 26 with priests, consecrated men and women and members of lay movements, the pope warned that the burdens and troubles in the church can lead to a "weariness of hope" that "calls into question the energy, resources and viability of our mission in this changing and challenging world."

"The weariness of hope comes from seeing a church wounded by sin, which so often failed to hear all those cries that echoed the cry of the Master: 'My God, why have you forsaken me?'" he said.

Thousands of pilgrims and Panamanians waited outside -- some camped outside since 4 a.m. -- cheering loudly as the bells of the cathedral hailed Pope Francis' arrival.

Upon entering the 220-year-old church, the pope was greeted with applause by those present, including President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama and his wife, Lorena Castillo.

The pope then spent several minutes praying before a statue of Santa Maria La Antigua, patroness of Panama. The original image, which depicts Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms and carrying a rose, was first brought into the country by Spanish conquistadors in 1510.

During the Mass, Pope Francis consecrated the altar of the newly renovated cathedral. Removing his chasuble and rolling up his left sleeve, he poured chrism oil and anointed the altar.

According to World Youth Day officials, the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria La Antigua is the first cathedral in the Americas to have an altar consecrated by a pope.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the reading from St. John's Gospel in which Christ, weary from a journey, asks a Samaritan woman for a drink of water.

While many in the church seek to announce the Good News as Jesus did, he said, "we do not always know how to contemplate and accompany his weariness; it seems this is not something proper to God."

"The Lord knew what it was to be tired, and in his weariness so many struggles of our nations and peoples, our communities and all who are weary and heavily burdened can find a place," the pope said.

While priests, laity and consecrated men and women can experience physical weariness due to long work hours or "toxic working conditions and relationships," there is also another "subtle weariness" that "seems to have found a place in our communities."

This weariness of hope, he added, can lead to a "gray pragmatism" that pierces the heart of the church, making it seem that while "everything apparently goes on as usual, in reality, faith is crumbling and failing."

"Disappointed by a reality that we do not understand or that we think has no room for our message, we can open the door to one of the worst heresies possible in our time," the pope warned.

It is "the notion that the Lord and our communities have nothing to say or contribute in the new world now being born," he said. "What once arose to be the salt and light for the world ends up stale and worn."

Christians need to quench their parched hope by returning to the "deep well of our first love, when Jesus passed our way, gazed at us with mercy and asked us to follow him."

A wearied hope can be healed, he said, when people are not afraid to let their heart "return to the place of its first love and to find, in the peripheries and challenges before us today, the same song, the same gaze that inspired the song and the gaze of those who have gone before us."

 

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz MuthBy Rhina GuidosPANAMA CITY (CNS) -- To open up a conversation about what Mary's answer to God can teach the young, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich reached back into the life of his grandmother, an immigrant who carried a profound pain from a father who sent her away to another country with the parting words: "You're no good to me."Life can produce moments of great pain, moments that can paralyze us with fear, Cardinal Cupich told English-speaking World Youth Day pilgrims Jan. 25 during a catechetical session at Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Panama City.During World Youth Day, cardinals, bishops and others participate in sessions that allow for teaching and sharing and give pilgrims a change to ask questions. Though the events can take many forms, the young pilgrims present for the cardinal's session sat in the room of the small church and listened intently in the pews to hear his family story, which was mixed in with the account of Mary...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- To open up a conversation about what Mary's answer to God can teach the young, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich reached back into the life of his grandmother, an immigrant who carried a profound pain from a father who sent her away to another country with the parting words: "You're no good to me."

Life can produce moments of great pain, moments that can paralyze us with fear, Cardinal Cupich told English-speaking World Youth Day pilgrims Jan. 25 during a catechetical session at Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Panama City.

During World Youth Day, cardinals, bishops and others participate in sessions that allow for teaching and sharing and give pilgrims a change to ask questions. Though the events can take many forms, the young pilgrims present for the cardinal's session sat in the room of the small church and listened intently in the pews to hear his family story, which was mixed in with the account of Mary's acceptance. Mary, as an unmarried girl, probably faced great fear when presented with the possibility of being the mother of Jesus and yet she accepted, Cardinal Cupich said.

But fear and pain cannot stop people if they trust in a God who promises to look out for them, he said. For his grandmother, being sent away in a painful manner did not stop her from creating a life, one that led to children and even grandchildren -- including one who became a U.S. cardinal.

Sometimes, one of the pilgrims told the cardinal, there are people who find it hard to believe in God's love; what happens then?

"Make sure you don't give up on God's grace," Cardinal Cupich responded, adding that whether it's pain, or whether it's a great honor, such as becoming the mother of God, a person has to get outside of him or herself and focus on a life of serving others.

Mary, for example, "didn't stay home and post on Facebook 'Hey, I'm the mother of God,'" he said to great laughter. Looking at the Gospel, one of the first things she did was to head out to help her cousin Elizabeth.

"You'll be happier if you serve others," the cardinal said.

Whether it's fear or surprise, people must believe that God is putting each person in a position he wants, the cardinal said. That means a position to help others, he added.

"The Lord calls you to join him and accompany other people," the cardinal said.

Vennera Adedjeh-Mensah of Ghana said she appreciated that the cardinal did not approach the group, which filled the church, with a lecture.

"He brought it to our times and we were able to relate to it," she said.

Sometimes the world offers a view that material goods, or a life that says the "one with the most toys wins," is what will bring people happiness, but it does the opposite, Cardinal Cupich told them. Some speak of what's called the "prosperity" gospel; "that's very dangerous," he said.

And that's not the Gospel of Jesus, he said.

But it's one that can easily call to today's young, said Adedjeh-Mensah.

"There are so many voices nowadays calling for you attention," she said. "But you have to find balance."

Cardinal Cupich told the young people to keep the model of Mary firmly in mind.

"God is calling you to a life of happiness serving others," he said.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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