World Youth Day: insights into life and faith for thousands of young people

Thirty-five people from the Diocese of Brentwood are set to leave for World Youth Day 2019 in Costa Rica and Panama this week to join up to half a million others for a time of celebration and prayer with Pope Francis. They include Bishop Alan Williams, Fr Dominic Howarth and seminarian Alexander Johnson, alongside young people from the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service and 17 parishes across the Diocese. Four of the young people are ambassadors from the Cathedral Parish and two of them spoke on BBC Essex this week about their expectations of the trip (listen below to their interview with presenter Peter Holmes).

So what is on the agenda for the young people once they get to Costa Rica? During the first part of the trip they will be staying with host families, says Fr Dominic Howarth, who is leading the group.

“The ‘Days in the Diocese’ are a wonderful part of the World Youth Day experience. Staying with a host family means sharing their day-to-day life and culture and many of the host families will have children around the same age as the visitors. The parish in which our young people are staying is Hatilo, on the edge of San Jose. It is a busy urban area – think of Ilford or Romford – with a backdrop of mountains, and 45 minutes from sections of rainforest.”

There will be about 3,000 people from other countries being hosted in San Jose, he says.  “We will be at a large gathering on the Saturday, and this is a great ‘warm up’ for the main event in Panama as the youngsters begin to meet and mingle from people from other countries.”

“We have a great programme of events – one is a day with young people of the parish, serving the community by clearing an area of parkland. In the evening, social time, perhaps including a walk up a hill looking over San Jose.” On Saturday, he says, there will be a morning walk to the La Sabana park in the centre of San Jose, for Mass with the Archbishop and young people from Costa Rica and across the world.  And on Sunday an early start to visit Mount Poas volcano, followed by La Paz waterfall gardens.  “We will be immersed in the wildlife and beauty of Costa Rica, and we’ll be joined by some of the young people from our host families.”

Then in Panama, the group will be staying at the Hotel Riande Granada – a mile from the main ocean front area that defines Panama City and just over a mile from Cinta Costera, where the activities for the week of World Youth Day will be centred.

Says Fr Dominic: “The days in Panama will be full of activity, and it is that which we are there to enjoy. Imagine about 200,000 young people from all over the world meeting with about 300,000 from Central and Latin America, in a city which is itself beautiful and vibrant. That is the human encounter of World Youth Day, and the organisers have done all that they can to create a huge variety of spaces, entertainment and opportunities for visitors to meet other young people, and have fresh insights into life and faith through experience of drama, dance, prayer, different cultures and social justice in action.”

Alongside plenty of free time, a tour of the Old Town and a visit to the Embera Quera Indians for a canoe ride and lunch, there will be talks and discussions with bishops or cardinals, Stations of the Cross and group Masses, before an opening ceremony at Cinta Costera to mark the Pope’s arrival. Later in the week, the young people will walk to Metro Park to take part in a vigil of prayer and praise with Pope Francis followed by a night under the stars. The trip will culminate in the World Youth Day Mass the following morning, celebrated by Pope Francis for perhaps half a million young people.

“Our final day will involve a visit to the Old Pipeline Road national park to see monkeys and humming birds. Then on to Miraflores locks to see the Panama Canal in action before a final celebratory dinner at the hotel,” says Fr Dominic. “Replete spiritually, nourished physically, and utterly worn out we will have a short sleep before heading off in the early hours to the airport.”

Bishop Alan, who famously camped out with the young people from the diocese at the last World Youth Day in Poland, will be accompanying them once again. “The Brentwood Catholic Youth Service Group will be the largest contingent from England and Wales,” he says. “The general theme of the Pilgrimage is, ‘I am the servant of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word’ (Luke 1.38) and my personal intention throughout will be for Vocations to the Priesthood and Consecrated Life in the Diocese of Brentwood.  Please pray for the safety and success of the 34th World Youth Day and for this particular intention.”

WYD will be covered on Catholic TV channels EWTN and Salt & Light TV. Follow the young people from our Diocese on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @BrentwoodCYS and there will be regular updates on this website.

Alice and Ian on BBC Essex

Cathedral parish ambassadors

Graham Hillman