Panama youth meeting offers Pope Francis respite from sex scandals

Source:AFP Published: 2019/1/23 21:13:41

Pope Francis jets into Panama on Wednesday for a gathering of young Catholics that will likely see him speak out strongly in defense of Central American migrants and human rights.

The festive five-day meeting with an expected 200,000 young people from around the world offers the 82-year-old pontiff a brief respite from a torrent of sex scandals that have dominated his papacy.

Groups of young pilgrims have been flocking into the small Central American country for days. 

Wrapped in the flags of their nations, many resemble soccer fans on the eve of a major tournament, except that this is one event in which they will be shouting for the same side.

At a Mass to open the festivities on Tuesday evening, tens of thousands of young pilgrims stood to chant, "this is the youth of the pope."

Panama's archbishop, Cardinal Jose Domingo Ulloa, told them the future of the church lay "in your vision of a better world."

Ulloa said he prayed the gathering "will be a balm for the difficult situation in which many of them live without hope, especially the indigenous youth and youth of African descent, the youth who migrates after receiving almost no response from their countries of origin."

Tens of thousands of young pilgrims attended the colorful open air Mass, near the capital's historic ramparts overlooking the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. 

Caravans of Central American migrants have traveled north through Mexico to the US border since October, roiling a debate over illegal immigrants and President Donald Trump's plans to build a border wall. Francis previously criticised plans for the wall during a trip to Mexico.  

He used the 2016 World Youth Day event in Poland to call on conservative governments in Central and Eastern Europe to soften their resistance to migrants seeking refuge from conflict in the Middle East.

"Many of the young people who are participating in the WYD are immigrants themselves," Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said, adding that Francis could be expected to speak out on the issue.

Posted in: AMERICAS

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