Many are the feelings that populate these lines. When the memories of World Youth Day come to mind, I try to catch them so that a part of them is irretrievably left in these lines.
These little quarters would start by talking about a dream. A long and cherished dream was suddenly born in the hearts of those who never lost hope of sharing and contrasting their faith with the brothers of other cultures, realizing that dialogue with the sometimes abstract universal Church.
It must be, then, because this feeling of island – with the well-known circumstance of water everywhere – is inscribed with us from the umbilical cord, that the first reference of this text is for the Catholic youth of the world. Until the appointment in Panama, I believed that Catholics were a minority overwhelmed by the frequent crises within our structures and with little vitality to sustain our proposal in a world marked by so many distractions. I dare to assure you that from our arrival at Tocumen Airport to the invasions of the Cinta Costera or the continuous collapses of the Metro, each space connected me with thousands of young people who proclaimed their faith, shared their testimonies and dreamed of that superior happiness that can only come from our Lord Jesus Christ.
I feel that the delegations of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, united States, Nicaragua, Poland, Uruguay, Dominican Republic… barely manage to imagine the footprint they left in approximately five hundred Cubans. Or the times we have quietly echoed their songs, dynamics, games or experiences.
My dream narrative cannot forget masses either, with consecrations in multiple languages, dances of the African rite or multiregional choirs; nor does it overlook the liturgy that managed to harmonize with the catechesis imparted by the bishops, the sensory experience of observing the miracles of Christ in the third dimension or those of a giant fair that showed how each charism, religious order or lay association is consolidating itself with the impulse that God’s love provides them.
I would also say that the Park of Forgiveness was the opportunity for a confession that restored the lacerated bond, or that it served for reconciliation among the brothers who looked at each other with disgust, and was the bridge necessary to renew ourselves with the force that drives mercy. There was no time to dance, sing, pray or converse with young people from all over Cuba, united in a rare kind of gym-bedroom where the affection for others grew as the days passed, and where the absence began to feel when, little by little, the first pilgrims who returned home left.
I would talk about a viacrucis where Cuba starred in an entire station and the joy that the Holy Spirit put in our hearts, when Campo Santa María la Antigua heard our yearnings for communion, raised, next to the pilgrim cross, by a group of boys who filled us with pride.
I cannot forget the accompaniment of nuns, seminarians and priests, who became a kind of active pilgrims, infecting us and generating an impulse that I ask God to multiply in each of his servants. I will speak of the parents Jorge Luis, Marcellus, Jesus, Dariel, Theo, Bladimir, of Monsignor Alvaro Beyra Luarca; also of those who came to the head of the dioceses of Bayamo-Manzanillo and Guantánamo-Baracoa, who guided their own and those they met on the journey. My hypothetical writing would not stop mentioning two brigidinas (Luciana and Bennet), a Daughter of Charity (Sr Iyala), other sisters I did not know, but who come to my memory for the care of mothers who lavished.
When it seemed that the journey could not be overcome, that so many moments of encounter and fraternity had reached its culmination, God – in his infinite abundance to his children – decided to give us one more gift. Some were skeptical, others steadily asked in their prayer, but we were all deeply moved when the Successor of Peter was shown in the chapel where we celebrated the Eucharist. It is true that days before we saw him enter the Panamanian Nunciature, where we waited for hours for his arrival, having in advance the enormous privilege of being the closest delegation to the place where he rested. Francis smiled at seeing so many Cuban flags and stood by from the mobile pope. But such a good image was surpassed by his blessing to the young Cubans, his lesson in humility before the Christ who dwells in the species of bread and wine, and by his inspiring words, which they found echo in a santiaguera that expressed in his own voice the feeling of all present in the College.
After that, I only remember the excitement of my friend Miguel, who sneaking under the Swiss guard managed to put his hat on the Pope; or the heartfelt tears of Cachita, who could touch him; or the overflowing happiness of Lolo, who felt blessed. That night surely our Father of Heaven received as many thanks as there were emotions left between us.
However, there was still something left to live: the Vigil with the Holy Father. I was moved by the moment when Camp St. John Paul II, taken by hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from all continents, was plunged into a beautiful silence. The Most Holy one came to us. It was time to place in him all our desires, our commitments, the deep longings we had, the intentions for the future of each nation. That night we slept in that field. And little mattered the cold breeze that came from the nearby sea, the discomfort, the hours of tiredness that already accumulated: we were faced with an experience that filled us with a mysterious feeling of fullness, impression with which we march home, and that surely influenced the message of hope that we conveyed to those affected by the recent tornado in Havana.
I don’t think my brothers would forgive me for forgetting what perhaps many remember as the most special thing in the world youth meeting. I am referring to the reception of Panamanian families. Those who did not hesitate to treat us like children of their own, those they loved and on not a few occasions pampered the Cubans, who from the prejornada in Columbus brought the best of themselves to complete strangers.
I keep admiring the greatness with which this people recognized that the Day was a good thing. And I’m not just talking about the economic momentum they certainly received with the arrival of so many people to the nation of fish and butterflies. I remember with particular gratitude the Christian music that was felt in many commercial establishments, the importance that the media and politics attached to the promotion of Christian values in citizen formation, the way in which people expressed their discontent with an evangelical pastor who encouraged them to ignore the event that so lovingly involved the joint effort of an entire country.
Pilgrims will always be linked to a special affection for that region. Therefore, before the next letters become bucolic, I will keep the text that dwells in my memory, which I can write from memory, but which is incomplete in these pages, because the missing lines can also be completed from the personal experience of each young person, because the testimonies would be inexhaustible and the gratitude would be at every moment. From now on there is the prayer for Cuban Catholic youth to be a living Church, to take the blessing represented by World Youth Day Panama 2019 and be able to radiate it in every corner that requires God’s charity and love. Ω