During the Jan. 27 closing Mass for the 2019 World Youth Day in Panama City, Panama, Pope Francis told the young people that they must not wait until the future to start living their mission, because they are “the now of God.”

“You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God,” said Pope Francis. “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.”

The pope cautioned them against thinking about being young as a type of “waiting room,” as if their vocation is far off in the future.

“For Jesus, there is no ‘meantime,’ but only a merciful love that wants to enter into and win over our hearts,” he said. “He wants to be our treasure, because He is not a ‘meantime,’ an interval in life or a passing fad; He is generous love...”

Throughout World Youth Day, the pilgrims reflected on how Mary said “yes” to God’s call for her. In Mary, young people can find a model of how to live, the pope said.

As the hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world received Communion, they joined in singing, “We are one body, one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone.”

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis thanked Panama for hosting World Youth Day, and he also thanked all the young people who attended, saying, “Your faith and joy have made Panama, America and the entire world shake!”

During the Way of the Cross, celebrated on Jan. 25 in Panama City, thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims from around the world joined Pope Francis in praying for people facing violence, poverty and other challenges.

Jocelyn Hernandez, an 18 year-old parishioner of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington, wore a flag from El Salvador over her shoulders as she prayed the stations. She still has some family in El Salvador, and she said she was praying for an end to the violence there.

Josue Ortez, another Sacred Heart parishioner, said he was “praying for every country,” because “every country goes through hardships and it is good to pray for everyone,” including those in the United States affected by the government shutdown.

“Stations is something deep and intimate to do with God,” he said, adding that the fact that Pope Francis was praying it with them, “adds a whole other meaning to it.”

At the end of the closing Mass, it was announced that the next World Youth Day will be held in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022, and young people from Portugal jumped up and down on the stage waving the Portuguese flag.

Before the Mass began, the emcee for the event noted that it was the final World Youth Day event before the young people dispersed across the globe to be missionaries in their own homes. And as the Mass concluded, several young people reflected on how they would bring their experience in Panama City back home with them.

Ana Clara Macedo Gonçahies, a 20-year-old from Brazil, said she planned to try to express her faith more with her friends and family.

At a Jan. 26 evening prayer vigil before the closing Mass, Pope Francis told the young people, “the salvation the Lord offers us 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.”

As the sun set and Adoration began, a hush fell over the once-lively crowd of an estimated 600,000 people, and they joined the pope in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. 

Reflecting on his World Youth Day experience, Harry Sadsad from Australia noted that Panama, a land bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, “has brought the Church and the world together in these few days.”

Oratile Mesweu, a 26 year-old from Botswana, stayed with a family during her pilgrimage, and she said even though they didn’t understand each other’s language, “the love is common.” During her World Youth Day experience, Mesweu said she has learned to “open my heart.”