Source: WYD2019/Vatican Media
Pope Francis arrived in Panama on Wednesday afternoon, after a nearly 13 hour flight from Rome. Looking quite tired as he walked down the steps of the Alitalia aircraft into the 33C humid heat, the Holy Father was welcomed by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez and the First Lady. With head bowed he listened attentively to the national anthems of the Holy See and Panama, respectively, and shook hands with the authorities present.
Then, just as the security team was ushering him into the waiting car, the Pope turned and waded into the crowd that had been trying frantically to grab his attention in every way possible. At the sight of the smiling, flushed and excited faces (not to mention the beautiful babies thrust at him from every direction), Pope Francis became suddenly animated. It was as though he had just woken up. Every sign of fatigue disappeared as he waved, hugged, blessed and beamed with obvious delight.
For thousands of young people, the arrived of Pope Francis marks the true beginning of the 34th World Youth Day. There were those who had waited at the airport all day. There were those who had practiced their dance routines for months. There were those who had created costumes and national dresses for the occasion. And they brought colour and culture to this historical Panamanian afternoon.
The last time a Pope stepped off a plane from Rome onto the soil of Panama was 36 years ago when Pope John Paul II arrived on 5 March 1983.
After meeting the crowds the Pope was taken directly to the Apostolic Nunciature, where he will stay for the duration of the visit.
Tomorrow the papal programme begins in earnest. His first appointment of the day is at the Presidential Palace where he pays a courtesy visit on the President and meets local Authorities and members of the Diplomatic Corps. He will also have an important encounter with the Bishops of Central America before lunch.
But the highlight of the day will be the opening ceremony for the World Youth Day at the Campo Santa Maria di Antigua on the Coastal Belt.
The theme for World Youth Day 2019 is taken from the Gospel of St Luke: "I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
During the flight Pope Francis paid tribute to veteran Russian journalist Alexei Bukalov, from TASS news agency, who regularly accompanied the papal journeys until his death on 28 December. He praised his writing saying he he was a man "of great humanity." The Pope was accompanied for the first time by 'ad interim' Press Office director Alessandro Gisotti who confirmed that the Pope is considering a visit to Japan.
Watch live-streamed reports from World Youth Day here: http://worldyouthday.com/panama-2019
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