As World Youth Day pilgrims gathered for Confession, Mass, and praise and worship inside of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort on Jan. 21, Chris Dube from Dube Travel, the company that planned the pilgrimage itinerary for many groups traveling from the United States, noted that they brought the pilgrims “near the greatest man-made shortcut,” which is the Panama Canal, “to celebrate the greatest short cut of all – the Blessed Mother,” who intercedes for the pilgrims to her son, Jesus.

This is appropriate given that the theme of World Youth Day is, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38), but Dube said this connection was further confirmed to him when he learned that the Panama Canal was finished on August 15, 1914 – the Feast of the Assumption.

“I thought, let’s put this pilgrimage in her hands,” he said.

The pilgrims, who had earlier toured the rainforest and taken a boat ride that crossed a portion of the Panama Canal, asked for Mary’s intercession as they began their time of prayer, singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet as many people lined up to go to Confession. 

A pilgrim prays the Divine Mercy Chaplet before Mass.
A pilgrim receives the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

As he led the praise and worship, Steve Angrisano told the pilgrims that he believes the real “yes” of Mary is not the first one she said – agreeing to give birth to Jesus – but instead it was every time she said “yes” after that, such as when she was giving birth to Jesus in a stable and then watching Him carry His cross.

Steve Angrisano leads praise and worship.
Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Washington pray during the Mass.

“World Youth Day is an opportunity for us to begin to say, ‘Yes,’ he said. “Sometimes we have to get outside of our everyday life to see God as we are called to.”

Following Confession, Father Marc Bishop, a priest from the Archdiocese of Boston, celebrated Mass along with several other priests from throughout the United States. In his homily, Father Bishop told the pilgrims, “We are on the verge of making a choice this week… making the choice to be ever new in God… the choice to be young and new and vibrant.”

Although the pilgrims may say they are already young, he said being young means, “being open to the grace that God is pouring into you.”

Like leather, which needs to be cared for or it will deteriorate, our soul “needs to be cared for so it always remains new,” he said. 

Father Bishop told them they could care for their souls in very particular ways, such as by taking time to be with God in prayer, especially Eucharistic Adoration; studying the faith, as they will have the opportunity to do during the Catechesis sessions at World Youth Day; having moments of generosity, such as looking past others frailty by building them up and serving them; and by evangelizing, such as explaining to others why they attended World Youth Day.

Father Marc Bishop, a priest from the Archdiocese of Boston, delivers the homily during Mass.

“Evangelizing is the opportunity to be vulnerable to another and tell them about the one who has changed your life, is changing your life, or who you hope will change your life,” he said.

Elliot Ellison, a freshman at Northern Virginia Community College attending World Youth Day with St. Joseph Catholic Church in Alexandria, Virginia, said all of the homilies he has heard so far during this World Youth Day experience have stuck with him. Though he has had a stressful year, he said what he has heard so far has cleared up some questions and brought peace to his mind. 

One of those messages, he said, is, “You are exactly where God wants you to be.”

A pilgrim from Texas prays during Mass.

Throughout the day, other World Youth Day pilgrims reflected on their experience so far and their hopes for the rest of the week. Tatiana Caballero, a 17 year-old from the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, said it has been interesting to feel so embraced by the Panamanian people. She and her friends said they have been struck by seeing so many World Youth Day signs posted on local businesses and other buildings throughout Panama City.

Joshua Saxton, a 17 year-old with the group from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Alexandria who is preparing to be confirmed as Catholic after being raised Baptist, said the World Youth Day experience makes him think about “how connected we all are.”

“A lot of Christians are very divided,” he said. “…But seeing all the people come together in one city gives me hope for the world.”

A pilgrim from the Diocese of Arlington receives communion during Mass.