As World Youth Day (WYD) Panama approaches in January, many young people are eagerly waiting to discover for themselves the characteristic values of youth and the richness of the Catholic faith.
Furthermore, what is unique to this worldwide gathering of young people every three years is the exchange of cultures.
This is what one Singaporean will be hoping to experience when she travels to Panama.
“I want to experience the universality of the Church,” said Sharon Leong. “I have no expectations ... I will leave it to Him to surprise me,” she said.
Sharon, along with 12 other people from Novena Church, will be travelling as a contingent from Jan 19-29 led by Redemptorist Father Francis Vijayan. The official WYD events are scheduled to take place from Jan 22-27.
The planning for the trip started in June, said Fr Francis. “In an effort to help our young people feel a sense of belonging to the wider Church, we started to talk about the possibility of sending our youth leaders from the Redemptorist Youth Ministry and the Altar Server Ministry,” he said.
As to how the contingent is preparing spiritually for WYD, Fr Francis said “a basic understanding of a pilgrimage is important. This will help them differentiate between a holiday or an excursion, and even between a mission and an exposure.”
There are also materials that have been provided by the WYD organising team for formation sessions. “Many of these are directed toward self-awareness, awareness of the environment and vocation,” he said.
Arriving in Panama will be a new experience for most of the contingent members. Fr Francis said that he hopes the youth will be able to experience the cultural performances there “because these have much to convey about how a singular faith can be expressed with much diversity. Better still if they can ... experience for themselves how these forms of devotion can ignite faith in them.”
One of the days in Panama will be set aside to meet Redemptorist youth from all over the world at the Redemptorist parish of St Gerard Majella.
In meeting so many youth from around the world, Fr Francis said he hopes seeing so “many young people excited about their faith” will rub off on the Novena Church contingent as well. “Of course, the presence of the Pope is a big deal and [the hope is] that they will be touched by his genuineness,” he added.