KRAKOW, Poland— Pope Francis on Sunday closed the Catholic week-long rally know as World Youth Day on a high, inviting the almost two million young women and men who’d gathered in the land of St. John Paul II to meet him again in 2019 — this time in Panama.
“God’s providence is always one step ahead of us,” Francis said during the Sunday Angelus prayer, after celebrating Mass in Campus Misericordiae, in the outskirts of Krakow.
“Think: it has already determined the next stop in this great pilgrimage begun in 1985 by Saint John Paul II! So now I am happy to announce that the next World Youth Day – after the two that will be held on the diocesan level – will take place in 2019 in Panama!” he said, to the roar of the exulting crowd.
Inés Escudero, from Panama, told Crux that Francis’ visit to her nation will be a blessing for the whole country, and that despite its size and the number of pilgrims who often participate in these events, they are- or will- be ready.
“From our hearts, we were the one’s pushing for this to happen! I can’t believe it finally will!” she said.
Panama has less than four million inhabitants, 80 percent of whom are Catholics.
If Sunday’s Mass was any indication, up to two million pilgrims could arrive in the country by land, air or water.
Despite the small size, however, Panama is the second most competitive economy in Latin America. Given that organizing Krakow’s WYD cost $50 million, this may well have been a consideration.
The country is on the isthmus linking Central and South America. The man-made Panama Canal cuts through its center, uniting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to create an essential shipping route.
Bordered by Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the southeast, President Juan Carlos Varela, a Catholic, has set his mind to making his country a cultural and economic bridge between north and south.
The president spent the last week in Poland, participating in many of the papal events. He was also in Philadelphia last year, attending the World Meeting of Families.
Roberto Santoria, audiovisual producer of Panama’s first lady, was also in Krakow participating in the closing Mass.
“I believe that this event in 2019 will unite the world’s youth, not in a commercial way, but a spiritual one,” he said.
WYD Panama, Santoria told Crux, would be the biggest tourist event in the history of Panama.
He acknowledged that the country faces a logistical challenge but said: “We have the space, the will, and all the support from the government and the country to welcome the pilgrims from around the world.”
In his closing remarks on Sunday, Francis told the young he joined them in “thanking God, the father of infinite mercy, for allowing us to experience World Youth Day.”
“You filled Krakow with the contagious enthusiasm of your faith. Saint John Paul II has rejoiced from heaven, and he will help you spread the joy of the Gospel everywhere,” he said.
During the July 25-31 event, Francis continued, it was possible for them to experience their universal fraternity in Christ.
“These days have given you a spiritual ‘breath of fresh air’ that will help you live lives of mercy once you return to your own countries and communities,” he said.