By Francesca Merlo
“I’m Thoba from Swaziland, now known as eSwatini, since the king has changed the name”.
It took Thoba and another 6 fellow pilgrims three days and four flights to reach Panama. Here’s their itinerary: Swaziland to South Africa, then to Kenya, from there to New York, an onward connection to Colombia, and from there to Panama.
Thoba says 18 pilgrims from his country attended WYD in Poland in 2016. This year only 7 of them could come because, as he explains, “Panama is too far”. But mostly the problem was ”finances”, he says. “People in Swaziland are not financially stable. Those of us who are able to come to such events are lucky, and we thank God for that.”
From Panama to parish
“In my parish, they are waiting for me”, says Thoba. They want to hear everything that has been happening here in Panama. “This World Youth Day teaches us unity”, he explains, and he wants his parish and whole diocese to be a part of that, too.
He says he has learnt a lot, studiously taking notes during the sessions of catechesis. But he was struck most by what Pope Francis said about what the people in the Church are doing for young people: how they can help our youth grow spiritually.
Follow your calling
Thoba explains why these words of the Pope stood out to him.
“Some of our parents, at home, don’t support the youth”, he says. “So”, he continues, “I will tell them: ‘the Pope is saying you have to support the youth in order for them to grow spiritually.’”
A Bishop from Australia, who presented one of the catecheses, “taught us that we must follow our callings”, he adds. This is what Thoba wants to help others understand. Because, “the majority of young people, especially in my country”, he says, “run away from priesthood”, from becoming nuns: “they have to listen to what God is saying to us”.
What Pope Francis said
Thoba describes his own calling: to help other young people follow their vocation and grow spiritually, and “to be a leader to them”. He is already a leader in his parish at home. When the young people from his parish look at him, he says, they see someone who is “a brother to them”, a role model.
So, even if no one else wants to support young people, Thoba, encouraged by the words of Pope Francis, says he will.