07 Feb 2019
Panama 2019: A Salesian World Youth Day
by Fr. Abe Feliciano, SDB
The 2019 World Youth Day in Panama was truly a grace-filled experience for the pilgrims in attendance. For the members of Don Bosco’s Family, it was a very “Salesian” World Youth Day.
In addition to the tremendous joy and pride that we felt from St. John Bosco’s being one of the official patrons of this year’s WYD, all of the distinct elements of Salesian youth spirituality were palpably present throughout the experience: at the opening Mass, at which the local archbishop, José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, presided; in Pope Francis’s homilies throughout the various liturgies; in the very Marian theme; in the overwhelming, genuinely affectionate welcome that every pilgrim received from the citizens of Panama. In all this we pilgrims were able to have an authentic experience of God in the events of our daily lives.
We were able to journey with Jesus as our brother and friend as we walked the streets of Panama City; to experience legitimate joy whether sharing a meal or waiting for Pope Francis to arrive; to grow in our sense of being one family, not only with the groups with whom we traveled, but also with all those we met over the course of our pilgrimage; really to experience the presence, guidance, and maternal care of Mary our Mother, as well as to be inspired by her example, which we recalled every time we sang the theme song; and to become ever more conscious of our responsibility and commitment to go out to the peripheries of our daily lives as missionary disciples to share the Gospel, especially with those most in need.
The Holy Father showed his “Salesian DNA” by repeatedly emphasizing these themes to the pilgrims in his talks and homilies, and his profound devotion to Don Bosco was on full display at the Saturday vigil when he spoke of Don Bosco and his ability to look upon the young “with the eyes of God.”
Although Panama is a rather small country, with a population of approximately four million (three million of whom live in Panama City), their Salesian heart is tremendous and unmistakable. Despite there only being two Salesian works in the country (Don Bosco Technical Institute and the Basilica of Don Bosco), it is the Basilica of Don Bosco that is privileged to serve as the “Valdocco of the West.” The Basilica houses for veneration the casket that traveled the world during Don Bosco’s relic tour in preparation for the bicentennial of his birth. The casket contains a first-class relic from Don Bosco’s right forearm; it is accompanied by a brick-by-brick replica of the Bosco family home at Becchi, adjacent to the newly opened Don Bosco museum, which contains a chasuble that Don Bosco used during his lifetime.
Our Eastern U.S.-Canada Province was blessed to have two delegations represent us in Panama: 33 pilgrims primarily from St. Benedict’s in Etobicoke under the leadership of Mariel Cabrera, and 15 pilgrims, primarily from St. John Bosco Parish in Chicago, under the leadership of Gui Lopes. Among those pilgrims were not only young adults and adults who are “young at heart,” but also Salesian sisters, brothers, priests, and Cooperators—a beautiful representation of our Salesian Family!
Both of our pilgrim groups were blessed to spend time at the Basilica, where we interacted with Don Bosco’s tenth successor, Fr. Angel Fernandez. Fr. Angel incarnates the affectionate, relational qualities of Don Bosco with his personal attention, patience, and genuine concern for each person who approaches him. Somehow, he seems to be able to a conduct deep, meaningful “rendiconto” with anyone in 90-120 seconds!
Although the event that was the 2019 WYD has concluded, our pilgrimage continues. The destination of our journey is not merely Lisbon, Portugal, for WYD 2022. Rather, our pilgrimage continues with the call to live the theme and follow the example of our Lady, who says, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” We ask our spiritual father, St. John Bosco, patron of our family and of WYD, to continue to intercede for us, praying that we do imitate the holy Virgin.