World Youth Day Panama
Finding grace along the pilgrim journey
Jan. 19, 2019
We have made it to Panama for World Youth Day! It was 30 degrees and snowing when I left Washington, and as soon as I got off the plane, the heat of the Panamanian summer hit me to remind me that I was no longer at home.
Though none of the official World Youth Day events have started yet, we have already gotten a taste of the pilgrim experience. Jaclyn, the Catholic Standard photographer, and I have been traveling through the city, and as is common with any international travel, we had a few minor missteps along the way as we navigated the public transit system.
Though I can understand and speak some Spanish, I don’t know it well enough to understand every word that I see or hear. Getting around requires gathering whatever information I can, and taking a bit of a leap of faith to make a decision, knowing that I may be terribly wrong.
Yesterday, on the way to our hotel from the airport, we had intended to take a bus that would swiftly take us down the highway and into the center of the city, but we instead hopped on one that went the same direction, but took back roads to reach the destination. The smaller roads and the rush hour traffic did not combine well, making it a long journey, but we did get to see some parts of the city that we probably otherwise would not have passed during our time here.
Then, earlier today, when we were on our way back from picking up our World Youth Day pilgrim packets, the bus we needed to get on was so crowded that I could not move at all from the spot I was standing in. We missed the correct stop, and ended up going to a different subway station than originally planned. When we did make it there, one of our cards didn’t have sufficient funds, and a friendly local swiped his to let Jaclyn in the station (note to self – be more helpful to tourists on the Metro!).
After we got in, we nearly boarded the train going the opposite direction we were supposed to, but thankfully the doors closed as we were running down the platform, preventing us from boarding. In the end, that was a grace that allowed us to see that we needed to get to the other side instead.
Though all of this, I have begun to understand why pilgrimage in itself makes for a rich spiritual experience. I can very physically experience the twists and turns of trying to get to my destination, which mirrors the spiritual twists and turns that I make throughout my life on the path to Heaven.
In a very tangible way, I have been reminded that I do not and cannot have all of the answers. Sometimes, my clouded and limited human knowledge will have difficulty figuring out God’s will, and I am just going to have to do the best with the tools I have at hand – prayer, discernment, the Sacraments, and the goodness of the people around me that help me stay on track, just like that good Samaritan at the subway station.
On this journey to Heaven, my hopes may sometimes be dashed – like when the subway doors I was certain I was supposed to go through shut in front of me – only for me to find out that God had better plans for me in store. And sometimes, I will make a poor decision, like getting on the wrong bus, but God will still send me graces and lessons to be learned along the way.
I am given hope by Paul’s words, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6).
As long as I set out with my aim in the right direction, I trust that God’s grace is more powerful than my meager attempts to navigate. If and when the day finally comes for me to go to Heaven, I hope the final bus to get there is just as uncomfortably full as the one we took to the subway today.