Pope Francis arrived in Panama on Wednesday, January 23rd, for World Youth Day 2019. The Catholic Church's youth rally, which is being held in Central America for the first time, has drawn 200,000 pilgrims from around the world to Panama City. It will culminate with an overnight prayer vigil and Mass from Saturday, January 26th, to Sunday, January 27th.
Pope John Paul II created World Youth Day in 1985 in an effort to harness youthful energy and encourage young people to participate in his New Evangelization movement. Francis sees youth as key to understanding the state of society, according to Vatican News.
Francis, the first Latin American pope, has made immigration issues a cornerstone of his leadership. In a speech to Central American bishops on Thursday, he encouraged them to welcome migrants into their church communities and, in doing so, to set an example for society to overcome its fear of foreigners, NBC News reports. Francis also responded to the unrest in Venezuela, offering prayers to save the population from additional suffering. But he pointed to the celebration's host country of Panama as a symbol for the potential to fight these divisions in society.
"A bridge between oceans and a natural land of encounter, Panama, the narrowest country of the entire American continent, is the symbol of the sustainability born of the ability to create bonds and alliances," Francis said in his remarks to Panamanian leadership, according to the Catholic World Report.