Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa: “Young people are called to a vocation of service”

Msgr. Jose Domingo Ulloa, Archbishop of Panama and President of Panama’s Episcopal Conference, starting working on the 2019 World Youth Day the moment that the Pope announced Panama as its host country, on July 21 last year. As well as all the material side involved in organizing an event of this size, Archbishop Ulloa is working to ensure that the WYD is the perfect finale to the upcoming Ordinary Synod on Young People. Here he answers questions put to him by Focus on the Church.


Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa Mendieta on a recent visit to Rome

By Rodrigo Ayude | Rome

– Young people around the world have their eyes on Panama for the 2019 World Youth Day, just one year and eight months away. How are the preparations coming on?

– It’s a blessing that Pope Francis fixed <i>his</i> eyes on our country, which, albeit so small, has the vocation of welcoming people.

As for the organizing, we have formed a committee locally. We have put people in charge of the various departments and sections to get working. We are inviting families from the archdiocese to welcome pilgrims into their homes. We held a competition for the logo and the hymn, and now we are selecting the best ones.

With the approval of the dicastery in Rome, we have composed a prayer for the WYD. We are sure that out of all the efforts we can make, prayer is what will bring us confidence and security. It is God who is doing this work, we are only his instruments. I keep repeating tirelessly to the dicastery that we want to be the executive arm of the challenge that the Pope has set the Church in Panama and the whole of Central America.

– In Rio, the Pope said to the young people, “Stir things up, I want things stirred up!” In Krakow he encouraged them to get off the sofa and take responsibility for today’s world. What may the Pope be expecting of the WYD in Panama?

– Ulloa: I am sure that the Pope wants the young people at the Panama WYD to learn how to give from what they are receiving, and to discover, like Mary, the vocation to service that young people are called to. This world and the Church will be transformed in the measure that young people commit themselves. I think that is something the Holy Father may have in mind, and of course it’s what I want too.

The theme of the event is “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). We should be grateful that it is about Our Blessed Lady, and we need to discover, as Mary did, what God has done in us so that we can put ourselves at other people’s service. Young people’s time has come. It links up with the next Synod. As we see, God does it all and he does things well.

– There is visible unity between the next Ordinary Synod, which will be about young people in vocational terms, and the next World Youth Day. Has a pastoral plan been set up to respond to this call?

– Yes. We have just had a meeting, in Mexico, of the Latin American Bishops about pastoral work with young people. For the coming year we are putting the emphasis on faith, discernment, vocation and service in young people. I think that this has to be a commitment on the part of young people in Latin America and in everyone who comes to the WYD. We have an example of it in Mary, setting out to help Elizabeth. And where do we find Elizabeth? In migrants, in young people who have lost the direction or meaning of their lives… I think that the Synod and the WYD should wake us up to the fact that young people are called to announce to other young people the great experience that Our Lord has given them. It calls for our commitment. Every WYD calls for –

– What do you see as the greatest challenges faced by young people in Latin America?

– The first challenge is to commit ourselves, to give what we have received. Then to strengthen our sense of identity, of who we are. Thirdly, not to lose the memory of our history. I think those are the three greatest challenges for young people in Latin America.

The Holy Father’s prayer intention for April: Young People

– You speak about memory. In Krakow the Pope said, “a young person who cannot remember is no hope for the future” and he asked them to prepare for the Panama WYD by talking to their grandparents, and to the elderly. Are people doing that?

– That’s something we need to stress. Talking with our grandparents is another opportunity to discover all our history. I think that a contribution the Church in Latin America can make to young people from all over the world is to discover our roots, where the Faith comes to us from, who preserved it. We can’t forget that the Faith in Latin America is the story of martyrs, above all thousands and thousands of martyred laymen and laywomen. Among our most recent martyrs we cannot forget Saint Oscar Romero. He is attractive because he is a shepherd who is one with his sheep, someone who gave his life for his people. We have to seek out great models like these.

– Archbishop Romero has just been made Intercessor for the World Youth Days.

– That’s right. And the Pope announced other intercessors as well: St Martin of Porres, who was a mulatto. The Pope announced this on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. St Martin of Porres is a Peruvian saint, but his mother was Panamanian, so he has roots in Panama. We asked the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life to present another young saint: St Rose of Lima. These two saints were the first fruits of the evangelization of America.

Another patron saint of young people who is much venerated in Panama and Latin America is St John Bosco. We are praying through his intercession as well as St Juan Diego’s. These are two iconic saints who can motivate young people, and are both very relevant in practical ways. There’s also Blessed Maria Romero Meneses, who gave her life for children and young people, and, as for every World Youth Day, St John Paul II, another saint whose intercession we implore.

Obviously we have the protection of Our Lady of Antigua, the Patroness of Panama ever since the diocese was established in 1513 – the very first diocese on the mainland of the American continent.

– Do you know yet where the prayer vigil and Mass with the Pope are going to be held?

– All possibilities are being studied. We want somewhere that can offer facilities for a very large number of pilgrims. We also have to look at questions of security, necessarily. Right now we are asking young people to put their names down as soon as possible; that helps organization, security and applications for international permits.



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