Continued … The goal of World Youth Day is to inspire young people with the message of Jesus Christ. It has been celebrated every year since 1986, beginning when Pope John Paul II decided to share a special Palm Sunday gathering with Catholic young people. Every few years now the celebration goes international with youth from the around the world gathering together with the Pope, to attend religious education, cultural events, prayer and celebration. Panama City with its natural beauty – set right next to the Pacific Ocean was the site of the latest international meeting. It was the first time World Youth Day was held in Central America. The event is usually held in the summer months to coinciding with school vacation for Europeans and North American pilgrims; however the January time frame was selected to correspond with the host country ’ s “ summer ” or drier period. It rains 9 months a year in Panama creating a lush tropical environment and which is essential to maintain the natural water levels that allow the Panama Canal to function as designed. The Canal is the major source of income for the country (around 2.4 billion dollars in 2018) and it has enabled attention to be more focus on local ecology, where trees are planted instead of cut down. The country of Panama is 88tt Catholic and most Panamanians took hosting the event very seriously. Being in the world spotlight, they showed the rich enthusiasm that the Hispanic and Latino cultures bring to the Church. Panama ’ s Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, who is described as a “ rock star ”, was instrumental in building participation for the event, and President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez helped push his county ’ s selection as the host for the event. This World Youth Day was the first to incorporate the World Meeting of Indigenous Youth. Nearly 400 indigenous young people from around the world gathered in the rural Panama countryside before coming to the city for the celebration. They interacted with other pilgrims and showed how they live their faith within their indigenous communities. About 12,000 pilgrims from the United States attended, from 800 Catholic dioceses and institutions, led by 34 U.S. Catholic bishops. There was an opening ceremony and welcoming Mass, opportunity for prayer, music, shows, reconciliation, and catechism sessions with local bishops. Pope Francis gave a special address, and delivered 10 speeches in his native Spanish. He consecrated the new altar of the Cathedral of Panama. The diocese of Panama was the first on the mainland of the Americas and now its altar is the first to be consecrated by a pope. Stations of the Cross were held and there was a walking pilgrimage to a special vigil site. During the closing ceremony Pope Francis celebrated the evening Vigil , and Mass the following morning. It was estimated that there were 600,000 in attendance, the highlight of the event. Our 24 pilgrims from St. Joachim and St. Clement have not yet returned from the event (as of this writing). But their posts and messages tell of mosquitoes, planting trees, singing, boxed meals, hunger, colorful identity tee shirts, waving the California flag, horns, Masses with Father Jim, a two hour wait for pizza, getting very close to Pope Francis, heat, humidity, sickness, tying a giant rosary around themselves, and walking and walking and walking, sleeping overnight on the ground at the vigil site, and adoration and Mass with the Pope.. Let ‘ s hope they come back in one piece and enriched in their faith. It was announced that the next international World Youth Day will be in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022.