By Marina Alonso-Gallo

Six Bishop Kenny High School students attended World Youth Day Panama in January, and one of their parents who attended shares her perspective of their faith-filled week abroad.

(From left to right) Louis Caldropoli, Maddie Wade, Melissa Molano, Michael Ostos, Jesus Escamilla, Jose Gallo and seminarian Alex Sanchez. (photo courtesy of Marina Alonso-Gallo)

Surrounded by hundreds of thousands of young people from all corners of the globe, six fortunate Bishop Kenny students spent an amazing week at World Youth Day in Panama this January. It is hard to tell what was more exciting and inspiring: learning more about our faith and spending every night dancing and singing to incredible artists, seeing Pope Francis and meeting people from literally almost every country in the world or spending the night under the stars after walking for hours on the highway under the hot Panamanian sun.

Each day had a unique special grace for each pilgrim at WYD.  After almost a year of preparation, they arrived in Panama to begin each day with Catechesis, and every afternoon they could choose to see movies, exhibits, live entertainment and more. For three days Pope Francis gave to the youth his beautiful message of hope, love, and compassion, encouraging them to find their mission and say “Yes” to God’s plan in their lives.

The joy of being Catholic was tangible, in the nuns dancing and playing music, in the priests dancing and clapping and singing on the stage like rock stars, and in the eyes of visitors and locals sharing this beautiful experience. The presence of God was undeniable when everyone was in complete silence in Adoration before they followed our Lady of Fatima in a joyful procession, each group singing in their own language, all praying together like brothers and sisters. The experience of spending the night on a hard and crowded dirt floor and waking up to the cold morning air reminded the pilgrims of so many who are homeless, displaced or living in extreme poverty in the world.

After these few intense days, they are all back home, back to school and routines, but hopefully with a new fire in their hearts.  At Panama they had a vision of world peace and unity, where everyone feels safe and joyful, together beyond race, age, and cultural differences, speaking the universal language of love and humanity. WYD was a true blessing that none of them will ever forget.