PANAMA CITY, Panama — While World Youth Day may be a mega-event for the global Catholic Church, American pilgrims on hand in Panama are focusing on the small ways in which they might be able to live holy lives upon returning home.
A panel discussion, “Young People, Called to Holiness, In the Church and In the World Today,” tackled a range of themes related to marriage, secularization, same-sex attraction, and more during an hour-long discussion during the “Fiat Festival” on Wednesday.
The festival, organized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), FOCUS, and the Knights of Columbus, was the major event geared toward English language pilgrims, drawing an estimated 10,000 English language youth to the Amador Convention Center on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
(The Knight of Columbus are a principal sponsor of Crux.)
The panelists included a mix of young pilgrims — Kelsey Skoch, Carlos García, Sarah Halweg, Drew Dillingham, and Kim Rose Dillingham, along with Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas — and responded to written audience questions about the practical applications of World Youth Day once pilgrims return home.
Drew Dillingham, who along with his wife Kim, had previously given a testimonial about the vocation of marriage, was asked about why marriage within the Church matters in a world that increasingly sees it as unnecessary.
“In a secular marriage, you’re often making a vow to your significant other, to your spouse. But in the Catholic view of marriage, when you’re on the altar, you’re not only making a vow to your wife, but you’re also making a covenant with God,” said Dillingham.
“That makes all the difference,” he told the crowd.
“If we really want the Church to grow, and if we really want to see the faith carried on, then we’ll all have to have courage,” Drew said.
Burns was asked the most hot-button issues about how to respond to Catholics struggling to live out the Church’s teaching when it comes to same-sex attraction.
“We are called to holiness. We’re all called to be chaste,” the bishop responded. “We’re all called to recognize the theology of the body… and then respond to that call to sanctity and to be chaste regardless of our inclinations or attractions.”
While he admitted that such a challenge is “easier said than done, especially in this society,” he encouraged the young people not to be afraid to be countercultural.
When it came to other practical matters of the spiritual life, multiple panelists focused on the importance of prayer as the proper foundation.
Skoch likened it to going to the gym. First, you have to start small by setting aside 15 minutes a day, she proposed, but then you gradually work up the strength to do it longer.
Dillingham said that accountability was also a major step in guaranteeing regular commitment, be it through spiritual direction, friends, or a spouse.
Even though World Youth Day has just started, panelists said that pilgrims could start now preparing for their return home.
Taking a cue from President John F. Kennedy’s famous slogan, Dillingham said, “Ask not what your Church can do for you, but what you can do for your Church,” adding that priests and religious are forced to wear a lot of hats and there’s nothing they’d welcome more than the help of young people.
Pope Francis touched down in Panama on Wednesday evening where he is expected to give his first public remarks on Thursday morning during a welcome ceremony with the country’s president.
The festivities surrounding World Youth Day will continue through Sunday with a final mass expected to draw up to half a million pilgrims.