By Devin Watkins
Their bright yellow shirts lit up the streets of Panama, and their bright smiles lightened many a pilgrim’s burden. And on Sunday, Pope Francis gave them his heartfelt thanks for their hard work.
The 20,000 local Panamanians and 2,200-plus international volunteers spent the week lending a helping hand to the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims present for World Youth Day.
To express his gratitude, Pope Francis held a special meeting with around 15,000 of them in Rommel Fernandez Stadium.
Joy of shared dream
“Put service and mission first, and you will see that everything else will follow,” the Pope told the volunteers. He said that, in their interactions with others during WYD, the volunteers had experienced how faith “becomes more alive, dynamic, and real.”
“We experience a different kind of joy from having had the opportunity to work side by side with others in achieving a shared dream.”
Prayer gives vitality
“Thank you all”, said the Pope, for paying attention to the smallest details, no matter how ordinary or apparently insignificant.
He said prayer had helped the volunteers to feel events more profoundly and had given their actions vitality. “In praying, we open everything we do to the Church that supports and accompanies us from heaven, to the saints who have shown us the way, but above all, we open it all to God.”
Pope Francis said they had dedicated their time, energy, and resources to organizing WYD. “You could have easily chosen to do other things, but you wanted to be involved,” he told them.
The Holy Father likened it to Jesus’ miracle of the multiplication “not only of loaves but also of hope.”
God never outdone in generosity
Stella Maris, one Panamanian volunteer who greeted the Pope before he addressed the crowd, said she had saved up to attend WYD in Krakow, Poland in 2016. But she decided not to go, so that she could look after her three grandparents.
Pope Francis praised Stella Maris’ selfless generosity in giving up her dream to help her family. “But the Lord, unbeknownst to you, was preparing a gift for you,” said the Pope. “He brought the WYD to your own country.”
He said God can never be outdone in generosity or love. “Every time we forego something that we like for the good of others and especially those most in need,” he said, “the Lord pays it back a hundredfold.”
Bear witness with simple actions
Then, Pope Francis sent the yellow-shirted volunteers forth to continue their mission of helping others. “Go out and tell; go out and bear witness; go out and spread the word about everything you have seen and heard.”
But, he said, many words are not needed, only “simple and ordinary gestures, those that transform and renew each hour of the day.”