We woke to a beautiful sunny day in Panama City. Far below our hotel window is the massive pool our hotel owns and in the distance is The Hilton.
We rushed downstairs with only 5 mins to spare for a quick breakfast. Emily, Because and I shovelled some food into our mouths from our hotels delicious looking buffet then ran to meet the others in then foyer.
Onward we walked to the Catechesis site where today's big Australian gathering would be. On the way countless cars honked friendly rhythms at us and waved shouting "bienvenidos!" I was completely shocked at the footpaths in Panama City, they're horrible! You'll be walking along when suddenly there's a huge, random hole in the middle of the pavement. People with vision loss must have such a horrible time walking here, I took a bunch of photos to share with my colleagues. Numerous construction workers waved hello at us from buildings above and along the way we passed pilgrims from Argentina, Brazil and Canada. After an hour of walking in the sun and discovering that Panama City was in fact extremely humid, we arrived at the San Francisco Catechesis site. Hundreds of Aussies were already there, we discovered that all up there's approximately 1000 Australians attending World Youth Day this year. We originally had thought it was only around 300 people. The Australian Gathering site was literally in a carpark that was filled with rocks. Some crates had been scattered around for us to sit on and a stage had been set up complete with instruments and a screen. A mixture of upbeat songs, prayers of the faithful and speeches made up majority of the gathering. The Aussies were officially ready for World Youth Day 2019! Archbishop Fisher asked us to be a God bearer (as depicted in the Eastern Asian Churches where Christ is shown unborn in Mary's womb giving a blessing to all). He also asked us to be a God sharer and evangelise to the world. Fr Rob Galea made a brief appearance during the gathering and Maddi represented the Bathurst Diocese in the prayers of the faithful. Following the gathering we filled up our drink bottles and went in search of lunch. The when was intensely hot and we needed to be mindful not to risk heatstroke. Every pilgrim was given a voucher book with meal coupons, all you needed to do was locate participating restaurants that had a pilgrim flag out the front. Fortunately for us we only walked ten minutes and found a place called The Red Lion that was dishing up chicken schnitzel with rice and sweet iced tea. A mixture of pilgrims were in the restaurant including Aussies, Namibians and Canadians. A young woman sat near us and explained she was with the press but was from Germany. Josh asked her where abouts in Germany, she replied "it's a small town called Koblenz". I piped up and said to her "my dad was born in Koblenz!" She was happy to hear it and impressed I had a connection to her small town. After filling our stomachs we decided we'd walk to the site of the opening Pilgrim Mass which was approximately 6kms away. Pilgrims were starting to pop up everywhere from all corners of the globe. We passed a number of Austrians, Germans and once again more Canadians. It felt like we were celebrities while walking alongside the busy main roads, all the drivers kept beeping us, waving and yelling out "hello Australia!" Such beautiful people here in Panama. At one point we turned the corner into a small suburban street only to find a fancy restaurant that had put out a table with drink dispensers filled with iced water that also had watermelons and lemons in it. The lady minding the table didn't speak any English but was so happy to accommodate us and help us feel refreshed. I gave her a little koala and her face lit up, she pressed it against her cheek saying "awww".
We had a few breaks along the way to hydrate and eventually found a service station where we bought more bottles of water and used the bathroom. Around the corner was a newish looking street with amazing tactile ground surface indicators (for the vision imparied). Compared to the holes in the ground we'd found earlier these we're amazing! I guess blind people in Panama are only allowed to use this one street. We finally found the long stretch of road that led to the opening Mass site. Cue thousands of pilgrims as we meandered our way to the Mass location. It was really starting to feel like World Youth Day now. Pilgrims walking with guitars singing, dancing, chanting and flags waving left and right. We were walking along the coastline and could finally see then amazing city skyscrapers that overlook the water. Panama is quite a stunning city. We managed to find a grassy spot on a hill and claim it for our own. Most of us were exhausted from the heat and getting very little sleep the night before so we had little nanna naps. We woke to find our area inundated with pilgrims. Em and Maddie braved the toilet line and ended up waiting 30 mins to get into a portaloo. I managed to swap a few little things with people who instantly recognised my blow up kangaroo and ran over for some Australian tokens. A large group of Polish pilgrims say near us, they were from Krakow. One of them came over to swap with me, we exchanged some wristbands and pins. I explained my PlishP background and used some Polish sentences on him, he seemed to understand me which was great. I eventually explained that I wouldn't mind swapping an Australian flag with him or his friends. He went over to his group and asked around, he returned and said no one wanted to swap because they only have the one flag on them. He said the Polish flag is very precious and a lot of blood has been spilt protecting their flag so no one wants to give it up. I said I totally understood and they should all keep the flag. My Polish friend then ended up sitting with us for a bit. His name was Greg and he was an engineer. He said there is 150 here from Krakow but 3,500 from Poland all up. I'm sure one of them will want to swap a flag! His group is staying in a Synagogue here in Panama City. There is apparently a very large Jewish population in Panama (however there is 78% Catholic).
Mass started at 5:30pm. Such beautiful reverence from all the pilgrims around us during Mass. The Archbishops of Panama's homily was great. He said that Mary has been given to us as a model of bravery and courage. He also asked us to keep freeing oourselves of the things that tie us down and keep us from being Christian. Of course we heard this all through English translation on our little radios. It seemed though that majority of the pilgrims around us were from Central or South America and could understand everything going on. The sign of peace was a special moment and myself and Em got a bit teary. For as far as the eye could see everyone was turning to complete strangers and giving them handsl shakes and hugs. Such beautiful friendships at world youth day with no reservations. Mass finished and we ventured through the massive crowds back to our hotel. It was a relatively short walk and we managed to freshen up in our rooms before grabbing dinner. We were all white ravenous. Em, Maddie and I settled on getting Wendy's which was a nice fast decision.we then grabbed a Mcflurru from Mcdonalds to take back to our hotel and relaxed by the pool. The most exciting part of the evening was realising we'd get a full 8 hours sleep to prepare for tomorrow!