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WYD 2019. Father Chagas: over 40 thousand registered participants in a week. “In Panama as pilgrims, not tourists”

Less than a year to go to the WYD in Panama (January 22-27 2019). Preparations in the Central American country are in full gear especially after Pope Francis officially opened registrations on Sunday February 11. Over 40 thousand signed up in less than a week, divided into 1000 groups. The preparations to welcome over half million youths are in full gear. We discussed the organization of the event with Fr João Chagas, Director of the Youth Office of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life

“Today is the opening of registration for World Youth Day, which will take place in Panama in January 2019. I too, in the presence of two young people, will now register on the internet.” With a clic on the tablet on Sunday February 11, addressing the faithful from the window of his studio in the Vatican Apostolic Building for the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis announced the opening of registration for the 34th WYD that will take place in the Latin American Country January 22- 27 2019 on the theme “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Preparations are underway for this important event for world youths that is being held in Central America for the first time since its establishment in 1986. We discussed the organization of the WYD, that will take place in less than a year, with Father João Chagas, Director of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

Registrations surged after Pope Francis signed up, first pilgrim at Panama’s WYD. As many as 14.492 registrations for 425 groups on the first day. The first registrations were made by pilgrims in Honduras. Is it possible to envisage the total number of youths attending the meeting in Panama that will take place in less than a year?

Many people are signing up. In slightly more than a week we crossed the threshold of 40 thousand participants divided into 1000 groups. However, it should be remembered that these groups have started registration procedures, which are yet to be completed. Moreover, Italy is among the countries with the highest stream of visits to the official WYD website (

We are confident that many Italian youths will be present in Panama

Their joy, their enthusiasm, and their imagination will be an added value to Panama’s WYD. As regards the figures it’s hard to make forecasts. Young people always surprise us. Past WYDs were attended by 400 thousand to 5 million pilgrims, as was the case in Manila, in the Philippines, in 1995. Also on that occasion the event took place in January.

We expect to welcome over half million youths.

At what point are the preparations? In our capacities as Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life we are working in full harmony with the local organizing Committee (COL). We travelled to Panama three times, but we are in touch with COL on a daily basis. There are meetings approximately every two months to take stock of the progress made with regards to organization. I wish to highlight the competence of the COL professionals: lay people, most of whom volunteers, engaged also in Church service. The preparations are in full gear, the same goes for reception facilities (schools, parishes, families), food catering and transport. We are also working on

The “pilgrim kit” that will include an object with a high symbolical value: a rosary in olive-wood made by Bethlehem Christians experiencing various situations of difficulty. Young people will be invited to pray for peace using the olive-wood rosary beads.

Most of the details will be defined by the WYD preparatory meeting to be held in Panama June 7-9, attended by some 300 delegates for the Pastoral Care of Young People from world countries. On that occasion will be also presented most of the programme of the Dioceses Days, of the Vocations Festival, we will illustrate the sites of the celebrations and of confessions. The WYD in Panama will take shape in the presence of the delegates.

Are the logistic and organizational preparations coupled by the training of all those in charge of the groups of pilgrims?

Of course, we are also training the coordinators of pilgrim groups.

The WYD is not a tourist journey but a pilgrimage.

Young people will find excellent organization and hospitality, but the challenge is also to live out the atmosphere of a pilgrimage. This requires sobriety, simplicity and sacrifice on the part of the participant pilgrims.

As relates to security, do you plan to adopt special measures?

Every event of this kind requires appropriate security measures, and rightly so. Panama does not have a history of terror attacks, it’s a Country with a peaceful life. Here too

COL and the Police are doing an excellent job. Many Police officers are involved in parish activity. I find this extremely significant.

Are youths of non-Catholic religions and of other Christian denominations involved in the WYD preparations?

WYD volunteers include Muslim and Jewish youths, as well as young people from other religious traditions. In January I had a meeting with an interreligious-ecumenical Committee in Panama, whose members cooperate in perfect harmony, as in the slogan “different but not distant.” I firmly believe that the event in Panama will provide a beautiful witness also in this respect.

Every WYD reflects the personality of the hosting Country. What will the WYD in Panama be like?

As in Rio 2013, Panama’s WYD will have Latin-American traits, enthralling, overflowing with faith, transmitting joy. The Latin-American spirit we saw in Rio will be enriched with the Caribbean customs of the local populations. It will be a great celebration open to youths worldwide.

The Dioceses Days, whose purpose is to promote the twinning of local Churches and incoming pilgrims, will also take place in Panama…
We can already confirm that the pilgrims will be hosted also in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. During my trip to Panama past January I had the opportunity to meet the organizing committees of these two Countries and verify their commitment in the WYD. The programme of the Dioceses Days are currently being finalized. We will know more in the coming months.


Have the venues of the major events with Pope Francis been identified already?

As announced a few months ago, the main events of the WYD are set to take place in the “Cinta Costera”. However

The Organizing Committee and local authorities are considering the possibility of holding some of the events in other locations. Until now the Cinta Costera, that can be considered Panama’s Copacabana, remains the main venue, also because it has the best combination of space, reception facilities and security.

Young people won’t find as much sand as they did in Rio de Janeiro, but they will be welcomed by the beauty of the ocean.

The WYD is always preceded by the pilgrimage of the Cross accompanied by an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How far did the symbols travel so far?

The pilgrimage of the Cross and of the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary began in Guadalupe, Messico. It then passed through Cuba for the first time ever,  where the symbols arrived on October 11 and remained there until November 10. From Cuba they reached Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The pilgrimage is now passing through Guatemala. Every stopover is received with great enthusiasm and deep faith.

Do we already know the themes of the catecheses and where they will be held?

The themes of the catecheses are linked to the theme of the WYD chosen by the Holy Father. For Panama the passage from Luke (1:38): ““I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” These are simple, brief indications meant to serve as a thrust for dialogue between young people and the bishops-“catechists”. They will be held in parishes, churches, schools, gym halls and in various community centres.

The WYD will be preceded by the Synod on young people, next October. How is your Dicastery planning to transmit the contents that will emerge during the Synod to the WYD?

In his message for the 2017 WYD Pope Francis called for harmony in the path towards the Synod and the one towards Panama. A path with eminently Marian traits.

The Synod is already underway and its fruits will be even more visible during the WYD.

Could the post-Synodal exhortation be released already during the WYD in Panama? It will depend on the Holy Father and on the works of the Synod. The entire Synodal process will be echoed within the WYD, regardless of the presentation – whether or not it will be released – of the post-Synodal Exhortation.

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