ROME — Organizers of the next World Youth Day have announced the dates for Panama 2019: Jan. 22-27. The massive youth rally, which always has the pope as its VIP guest, will take place in Panama City during its local summer.
Explaining the date, which may make it difficult for North Americans and Europeans to participate because of school schedules, Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa of Panama City said that the weather — in particular, avoiding the country’s heavy rainy season — prevailed in the choice.
“We are conscious that this is not a vacation season in many countries, but we’re convinced that this won’t be an impediment for thousands of young men and women from every continent to come to Panama to encounter Jesus Christ, held by the hand by Mary and with the Successor of Peter,” Ulloa said on Friday, during a press conference in Panama.
Directing his message to youth around the world, Ulloa said: “You are the true protagonists of this World Youth Day. Panama waits for you with an open heart and with open arms to share the faith, to feel that you are the Church!”
Archbishop Andrés Carrascosa, the papal ambassador in the Central American country, also took part in the announcement. He said that Pope Francis knew the date could be complicated for North American pilgrims or those coming from Europe, who are used to World Youth Day being held in August.
“I spoke with Francis, and he said that the youth from this region have been to every WYD when the dates weren’t good for them,” Carrascosa said. “Sometimes pilgrims from one country sacrifice, sometimes others.”
The nuncio also underlined the importance the event will have not only at a national but a regional level: All the bishops’ conferences from the sub-continent made the pitch to the Vatican for Panama to hold the event. The plan is for neighboring countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador to be part of the program too by hosting pilgrims during the week previous to the event.
“The pope told me this was the first time six episcopacies asked for something [together],” Carrascosa said.
However, the prelate also acknowledged that this will be the biggest event the country has ever hosted, and urged the people of Panama to address it as a national event regardless of political labels.
“This is the greatest challenge from the foundation of our country: we’ve never had so many foreigners, it’s a new league,” Carrascosa said.
World Youth Days are an itinerant youth festival first held under St. John Paul II, and since the mid-80s they’ve been taking place every two or three years. Francis has participated in the last two: Krakow, Poland, in 2016, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2013.
The pope had first announced Panama as the hosting country at the closing Mass of the Polish edition.
The organization is estimating that 350,000 pilgrims, 800 bishops and a likely 200 cardinals will participate in WYD Panama.