It wasn’t lost on Brenda Noriega that the 111 diocesan pilgrims who traveled to Panama for World Youth Day 2019 had to go 3,000 miles to learn a little bit more about hospitality – one of the four core values practiced here in the Diocese of San Bernardino.
Host families in Costa Rica, where the pilgrims spent their first four days, and later in Panama, offered an unguarded welcome, said Noriega, the Young Adult Ministry Coordinator for the Diocese who spearheaded the Diocesan participation in WYD.
“They raised the bar for us as a Diocese that has a core value of hospitality,” she said. “They knew what we went through to get here. They knew that we loved God, that we were seeking Christ.
“That’s all they needed to open their homes to us.”
The pilgrims’ Costa Rica stop, called Days in the Diocese, included a bus trip to the city of Cartago, where they convened with youth from all over the world and processed to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles. They toured the beautiful church and even took some of the creek waters that flowed in its underground, said to have healing qualities due to the apparition of the Blessed Mother there.
The diocesan pilgrims also did Acts of Mercy in Costa Rica that included visiting convalescent homes and singing and dancing with residents there. Others visited the sick in local hospitals, including a group led by Father Manuel Cardoza, Pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in San Bernardino. In this setting there were some emotional interactions and moments of faith sharing.
“They had one patient they were moving to surgery and as she lay in her bed, she looked up at Father Manny and her face lit up,” reported Lynne De La Torre, Digital Media Specialist for the Diocese who accompanied the diocesan pilgrims to document the trip. “As they moved her closer he extended his hand and from a distance, he gave her a blessing. As she moved away from us, she made the sign of cross.”
Panama welcomed the diocesan pilgrims on Jan. 22. They participated in the opening Mass and began to make acquaintances with youth from all over the world through activities, entertainment and evening prayer.
Sisters Paola and Monse Angeles, parishioners of Our Lady of Hope, said it wasn’t hard to connect with pilgrims from other countries.
“Even though we don’t speak the same language, when we start praying together, we become one,” Paola said.
Said Monse, “we connect through Catholicism and through God. It’s really nice.”
On January 24, Pope Francis arrived in Panama City and welcomed the pilgrims. De La Torre said it was initially reported that the Holy Father would not appear in the famous Popemobile but rather would ride by in a regular car. After a two-hour wait, the pilgrims saw that he had, indeed, decided to use the Popemobile. The presence of Pope Francis had a deep impact on the diocesan pilgrims, as De La Torre shares.
“We then heard the screams, it was as though time had stopped and we saw Pope Francis, his hand raised in blessing. I didn’t know when it happened but as I filmed, tears fell from my eyes and of those around me. The crowd began to chant, “this is the youth of the pope” and in that moment it’s as though we were his children, God’s children.”
David I’Anson, a Third Order Franciscan and parishioner of Sacred Heart, Palm Desert, came to World Youth Day with his wife and their young child.
“I never thought I’d feel like this,” he said after seeing Pope Francis. “It’s as though God is the sun and he, Pope Francis, was the moon. Reflecting God.”
Mark Rangel, a parishioner of Queen of Angels, Riverside, was part of a delegation of U.S. Catholics that appeared on stage with the Holy Father as part of the Living Stations of the Cross during the Evening Vigil on January 25.
Noriega was the North American representative in a small group that attended a lunch with Pope Francis on Jan. 26. She presented the Holy Father with a gift from Bishop Gerald Barnes.
As it has done for several previous World Youth Days, the Diocese held a Virtual World Youth Day event, locally, to put local youth in solidarity with the pilgrims in Panama. Virtual World Youth Day took place at St. Adelaide Parish in Highland on January 26.