By Linda Bordoni
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.
As President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez reveals, preparations to host the event kicked off on 31 July 2016 when Pope Francis wrapped up the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, with the announcement that Panama City had been chosen as the next venue.
Describing his people as "noble and hard-working", "full of faith and hope" he 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.
The President also noted that to welcome the Pope – not for a pastoral visit to a particular country – but 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.
Panama's bridge-building vocation
Once again, he said, Panama will be the country that “builds bridges between nations and cultures, a meeting point, a starting point for Pope Francis’s message that will be spread from here to all corners of the earth”.
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,” he said, “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,” he concluded, “ I feel honored 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.”