BY Ryan McDougall | January 18 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

8-PANAMA

World’s young Catholics gather in Panama

Ryan McDougall looks ahead to World Youth Day, and explored why this year few Scots will be making the journey

World Youth Day (WYD) 2019 is just around the corner, and Catholics from across the world are making their way to Panama, a small Central American country that connects the northern and southern continents.

However, this year will see a markedly reduced number of Scottish pilgrims, in comparison to 2016’s WYD in Krakow, Poland, which in total saw three and a half million pilgrims attend, and an overwhelming number of Scottish young people from all eight dioceses visit the central European country.

WYD 2016 was conveniently located for Scottish Catholics, with groups travelling by coach for a reasonable price, and travel time of just a few days—less for many.

That year, WYD took place between July 25-31, meaning exam pressure for school, college and university students had passed, and the pilgrims could relax and enjoy what for many was a life-changing experience.

This year, WYD posed a number of challenges, with the result that no diocese in Scotland has been able to send a pilgrimage group.

The Panama events takes place from January 22-27, and will consist of an official welcome, shows, music, Masses, vigils, talks and, of course, the visit of Pope Francis.

The dates of WYD 2019 clash with many Scottish pupils’ preliminary exams in schools, most of which began earlier this week and will conclude towards the end of the month.

For pupils who aren’t sitting prelims, or for college and university students, it’s also still term-time, meaning Scottish Catholics in education would need to take potentially crucial time out of their studies in order to travel to WYD this year.

A spokesperson for Glasgow Archdiocese’s youth office said that none of Scotland’s dioceses are to host official trips to Panama, but some families are to have their own celebrations from home.

“We took 50 young people to Poland a couple of summers ago, and really the prime age was upper-secondary and university-aged people, and this time of year doesn’t really work for them,” they said. “But it works for the youth in Panama, so it’s good that they’ll be able to have their chance this year.”

Seminarians are also bound by their studies, making a pilgrimage to WYD 2019 a difficult prospect.

Gaynoll Craig, youth coordinator for Aberdeen Diocese during previous World Youth Days, said: “WYD Panama 2019 is taking place in the month of January which is right bang in the middle of our academic year and many of our young people are preparing for prelims/exams etc. Our young seminarians are also still in Rome studying.”

Expense is another barrier for Scottish pilgrims, with a pilgrimage this year costing as much as £1,500, more than double that of the Krakow pilgrimage in 2016.

Mr Craig added: “For these reasons and the high costs to Panama City [it] has meant the response from all the dioceses in Scotland has been very low and there are no diocesan groups going out to Panama.”

South of the border, a few English diocesan groups are making the trip.

Westminster Diocese are set to take a group out for 10 days, but said that many dioceses in England and Wales have, like Scotland, decided not to take part for reasons of cost and timing.

One youth worker highlighted how one of the main focal points of WYD in Westminster is not just the event itself, but the post-WYD events where pilgrims can gather with Cardinal Vincent Nichols for a reflection of the time spent in the host country—which ‘always does really well,’ he said.

Despite the lack of pilgrims, Scotland is still set to mark WYD at home.

Various parish and family groups are to stream the event on their TVs, computers and tablets, Church officials have said.

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