In January, I had the privilege of travelling to Panama with my colleague JJ (the formation co-ordinator at our SPEC retreat centre for young people), as part of the Diocese of Westminster’s preparation for World Youth Day 2019, next January.
We had just under four days in the tropical Central American country, as we began to scope out the options for our pilgrimage and discover all that we could about the preparation for the papal visit in 12 months’ time.
Here’s a short list of some of what we learnt and did:
1. Where are we staying?
On the itinerary was to check out the hotel we would be staying in. The Riande Granada hotel is based in the centre of the city, between two major metro stops: Via Argentina and Iglesia del Carmen.
The hotel itself is beautiful and modern, with restaurants and bars, a swimming pool, sun terrace and Jacuzzi. The bedrooms looked comfortable and a decent size all with their own bathrooms. Knowing that we’d have a somewhere nice to rest is certainly reassuring!
Although it’s not the usual pilgrim austerity, it does mean that we will sleep well, which I usually find means I can better engage with the spiritual journey!
Our hotel is located near some of the main roads in the city; there are lots of restaurants and shops in the surrounding area, including a supermarket – which also means that our pilgrims will not be hungry!
2. What is Panama City like?
Panama City is very modern-looking; there were lots of beautiful glass skyscrapers and landscaped roads. With all of its hotels and big shopping malls, parts of the city have a noticeably American feel.
However, it is also has a Central American feel to it. Pace of life is a little slower, cars don’t necessarily follow rules you’d expect, there are no street signs and directions – places are via points of interest instead. Almost everyone drives what looks like a taxi; it’s very common for people to give a taxi ride to someone going in their direction, and even to pick up some other people on route if they are all going the same way.
Due to the warmer climate, sitting out in the evening is a big part of the culture.
3. How are the World Youth Day plans going?
So far, the WYD Local Organising Committee are not saying too much; they are still trying to organise details before releasing them to the world, and the primary focus is on finding accommodation for pilgrims hoping to attend the Days in the Diocese week, that occurs before the main World Youth Day week.
Due to the time of year, Westminster is not opting for this option. However, we did meet with an English-speaking parish in Panama, and are hoping to arrange a time during our pilgrimage to meet with their young adult group also attending WYD. Details to come!
In terms of main events, it has been confirmed than the Cinta Costera will be used for some of the major ones. This location is a 15-20 minute walk away from our hotel.
4. Will we be able to see anything else in Panama as part of the pilgrimage?
We hope so! Panama has a rich and interesting history. Two ancient and ruined cities lie in its core, and the feat of human engineering that is the Panama Canal means there is much to see and explore whilst there.
We are in the process of seeing what is possible with some of the contacts we made on our visit, so stay tuned for more information!