As Pope Francis arrives in Panama late today for World Youth Day, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez spoke enthusiastically about his country’s preparations for the event for more than two years.
Hundreds of thousands of young people are converging on Panama City to participate in the 34th World Youth Day, an event that was established by Pope St. John Paul II in 1984.
Describing his people as “noble and hard-working”, “full of faith and hope”, President Verela Rodriguez said that since 2009, when the country was preparing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the first Catholic diocese on the American continent, many began to dream of the possibility of a papal visit to Panama. That dream, he said, has finally come true.
Vatican News reported that the President also noted that to welcome the Pope for an event that gathers thousands of young people from all over the world in one place, is perfectly in keeping with Panama’s vocation to be a bridge and a mediator.
President Varela went on to explain that as well as prepare from a logistic and organizational point of view, so that the pilgrims will be able to experience this gathering with the Pope in the best possible way, authorities have also tried their best to make sure that they will be able to enjoy what their “small, great nation” has to offer.
“Everything is ready. Mobility, health and emergency plans are already being communicated to the general public. A new subway line is working, transportation has been increased and new pedestrian routes have been inaugurated. As a Panamanian, I feel honoured that our country will be at the heart of the world for a few days, pumping the Pope’s message of hope, unity, solidarity and concern for those in need.”
Panama is a country of 3.7 million inhabitants with 87% of the population professed Catholics. Till next Sunday they are hosting hundreds of thousands of young people coming from all over the world to pray with the Pope.
These pilgrims are being housed in a variety of buildings, including schools, parishes and gymnasiums, and often any other edifice, so long as it has a roof. Even the local Islamic Community has opened its doors to 500 pilgrims.