By Linda Bordoni
Since the very first World Youth Day, back in 1984, the Sovreign Order of Malta has provided medical expertise, volunteers and much needed assistance to the Vatican organizers of the event.
As always, Order of Malta volunteers will be present for the upcoming 34th World Youth Day, to be held in Panama from 22 to 27 January.
The volunteers, all specialized in accident and emergency care, will be coming from France, Italy and Germany.
They will be present at all the main WYD events and Masses on the theme chosen from a passage in the Gospel of St. Luke: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”.
Prince Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel, Grand Hospitaller of the Sovreign Order of Malta told Linda Bordoni, the volunteers will work alongside the Panama first-aid, civil defence and fire-fighting services in close cooperation with the Vatican Gendarmerie Corps and Swiss Guards.
de La Rochefoucauld said the Sovreign Order of Malta and its teams of first-aid medics and nurses have been on the ground at every single World Youth Day since 1984, when Pope St. John Paul II “launched this fantastic idea” – an occasion that has been kept up by all subsequent popes with the same success and enormous numbers of participants ever since.
Memorable moments of past WYDs
He recalled some memorable moments at the various WYDs and revealed that he himself, was a first aid helper in 1997 in Paris.
During the last WYD in Krakow, he said, they had “some 500 helpers and 20 to 30 trucks” on the ground meaning that about 10% of first aid security was provided by the Order of Malta.
de La Rochefoucauld explained that mostly, what the volunteers do, is to be present and vigilant amidst the huge crowds (who never sleep) where they often have to step in to offer first aid and medical assistance to people who may need it.
“I think it’s highly appreciated, not only by the young” but by organizers, he said.
He explains that thanks to the particular expertise and experience of the Order of Malta volunteers, they are frequently tasked also with looking after priests, organizers, special guests and disabled people who are present for the occasion.
He recalls meeting the President of Panama in 2015 during a UN Session in New York and hearing first-hand that he was “marketing” so the WYD event would occur in his country.
Then, two years ago, during in an official visit to Panama, de La Rochefoucauld said the Order offered its support knowing that in the small country the healthcare resources are limited.
120 Order of Malta volunteers on the ground
He said there will be about 120 professional volunteer first aid helpers on the ground. They come from France, Germany and Italy, as well as six members from the team that regularly offers assistance in the Vatican.
de La Rochefoucauld noted it is an enormous challenge for the host nation because of the sheer numbers involved and he revealed that the Order has held several official meetings with Panamanian authorities to be able to be totally in control of logistics.
“It is a challenge for a small country like Panama” he said noting that at least half a million participants are expected.
St. John Paul II’s inspiration
Speaking about World Youth Day de La Rochefoucauld said he thinks Pope John Paul II had an incredible inspiration.
In 1984, he observed, he hadn’t been Pope for long, and he came up with this idea looking at the young: “it was a tremendous idea because it showed another face of the Church being open to the young, and being ready to listen to the young and adapting” to a more informal way of doing things.
And WYD, he said, goes well beyond the single events and ceremonies that take place thanks also to the fact that young people from across the globe live in a global village for about five days during the occasion.
He said it is an experience that provides them with a unique opportunity to meet, exchange and share ideas with their peers “with their different traditions and backgrounds” all together: “you can do it anywhere in the world, you have the same feedback: you have the young responding – and it flows!”