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Pilgrims focus on the ‘vertical’ towards God and not the ‘horizontal’ here on Earth

All smiles: Young people, including a girl holding mate, pose for a photo as Pope Francis meets with Central American bishops in the Church of St Francis of Assisi in Panama City. Photo: CNS
All smiles: Young people, including a girl holding mate, pose for a photo as Pope Francis meets with Central American bishops in the Church of St Francis of Assisi in Panama City. Photo: CNS

COMFORTS like coffee, WiFi and video games were out the window for World Youth Day pilgrims gathering in Panama as young Catholics are urged to concentrate on God.

More than 700 Australian pilgrims descended on a church car park in Panama City to hear Australian musicians Fr Rob Galea and Simon Hyland.

At the gathering, Canberra Archbishop Christopher Prowse told the pilgrims to focus on “vertical” matters towards God and not “horizontal” matters here on earth.

He said to also focus on the three L’s: the last, the least and the lost.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher, addressing the crowd, said all pilgrims came together for WYD, young people with lay leaders, priests and the Pope “as a living-breathing, singing-dancing, praying-acting proof that the Catholic Church is alive and well”.

The group of 700 pilgrims moved from the car park of San Francisco de la Caleta Church to Cinta Costera Square for the opening Mass of World Youth Day 2019 on January 22.

Reflecting on her early experiences, Brisbane Catholic Education teacher Brooke Litzow said as a pilgrim at the opening Mass amongst the multitudes of people, she felt special in a way that she never had felt before.

“Just beautiful,” she said. “What a wondrous experience.”

About 1000 Australians trekked to Panama for the event.

Official WYD estimates suggest attendance was lower than previous years but the numbers easily topped 100,000 travellers from 156 countries.

Dallas Bishop Edward Burns spoke to 2000 English-speaking pilgrims during a catechesis session on the theme, Here I am.

“Everything we do and everything we say is to be marked with charity,” Bishop Burns said.

“That is what defines a Christian and a Christian community.”

Car park catechesis: Australian World Youth Day pilgrims in the car park of San Francisco de la Caleta Church, Panama City. Photo: Adrian Middeldorp / Diocese of Parramatta

He called upon the pilgrims to “never fail to see Christ in others – we have many different countries and we have so many laws, but we never fail to see the dignity of the human person”.

“The challenge for us is to really listen to the Lord,” he said.

“With all the technology we have around us, to shut all that down so that we can be still in the presence of the Lord and listen to Him much as Samuel said: ‘Speak Lord, your servant listening’.”

While many in the audience were amused by the idea, the bishop quickly told them to find themselves in the presence of the Lord.

“Open your heart, your mind and your lives to Him, and let Him speak to you,” he said.

Pope Francis met with the Central American bishops on January 24.

He told them to be fatherly shepherds, not over- bearing administrators.

“Snatch them from the streets before the culture of death can entice their young minds and sell its smoke and mirrors, or offer its chimerical ‘solutions’ to all their problems,” he said.

“Do so, not paternalistically looking down from on high, because that is not what the Lord asks of us, but as true fathers and brothers to all.”

Panama City Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa Mendieta spoke to the young people gathered for the inauguration Mass saying, “the change and transformation that humanity and the Church requires are in your hands”.

“We believe in you,” he said. “We hope in you.”

Archbishop Ulloa confessed to the crowd that sometimes adults think young people don’t want to listen.

“You need direction and accompaniment from us,” he said, “but, above all, for us to listen to you.”

Archbishop Ulloa said young people were “not easily impressed”.

“Young people search for witnesses, references filled with content and experience,” he said.

Rather than listening to someone talking about God, “you search for someone to show you God with their life”.

More than 20,000 local volunteers and almost 2500 international volunteers supported WYD, with 2500 journalists covering the festivities.

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