The Latest: Vatican: 600K attend pope’s vigil in Panama

PANAMA CITY (AP) — The latest on Pope Francis’ visit to Panama (all times local):

7:20 p.m.

The Vatican says an estimated 600,000 people have turned out for Pope Francis’ vigil at World Youth Day in Panama.

Many of the pilgrims will sleep outdoors in the Metropark zone where Francis will return Sunday for an early morning Mass before heading back to the Vatican.

Organizers have said all along they expected this World Youth Day to be much smaller than in years past, primarily because the January dates don’t coincide with school vacations in North America and Europe.

Francis is presiding over the Saturday night vigil, which has included testimony from a family with a child with Down Syndrome and a Panamanian youth speaking about his struggle with drugs.

Sister Maria De Guadalupe from El Salvador says the World Youth Day experience has been intense. “It has been very dynamic, a bit exhausting but it is worth it to hear the pope when he passes and receive his blessing and especially because it encourages young people.”


5:35 p.m.

Pilgrims to the Roman Catholic Church’s World Youth Day in Panama have set up tents in the middle of a sun-drenched esplanade where they await a vigil with Pope Francis on his second-to-last day in the country.

The idea is to sleep there overnight and then take in a final Mass to be celebrated Sunday.

Claudia Martinez is at her third World Youth Day after attending the event in Rome in 2000 and in Canada in 2002. The 41-year-old is one of the more than 6,000 people who came to Panama from El Salvador.

Martinez says they “bring the presence of our first saint,” a reference to the recently canonized Oscar Romero. The Salvadoran archbishop was shot to death in 1980 and made a saint last October.

Martinez says the most impactful part of the event in Panama so far has been the pope’s messages “challenging” young people.


3:20 p.m.

Young people have challenged Pope Francis on the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal and the plight of Christians in the Middle East as the youth take center stage in the final events of World Youth Day in Panama.

Francis lunched Saturday with 10 young pilgrims from around the world who are attending the religious rally. The Vatican described the atmosphere as familiar and festive, and the young people said they were surprised at Francis’ informality and interest in their questions.

Brenda Noriega was born in Mexico and lives now in San Bernardino, California. She said she told Francis that the sex abuse scandal was a “crisis we can’t avoid talking about.” She said Francis assured her that the church was committed to supporting victims.

Young people are expected to be protagonists as well later Saturday during World Youth Day’s final vigil.


10:15 a.m.

Pope Francis is seeking to inspire Panama’s priests and religious sisters as he acknowledges that they may have grown weary from the burdens of their work and the “wounds of the church’s own sin.”

Francis celebrated Mass on Saturday in Panama City’s main cathedral, Santa Maria la Antigua basilica. The Mass served to formally reopen and consecrate the church’s altar after a yearslong renovation.

In his homily, Francis spoke frankly about the pressures, frustrations and anxieties facing priests and nuns in a rapidly changing world where he said it sometimes seems the Catholic message has no place. The pope warned that such anxieties can sometimes be paralyzing, but he urged them to recapture the joy and faith that inspired them originally.

Francis celebrated the Mass at the half-way point of his four-day visit to Panama for the church’s World Youth Day.


9:15 a.m.

Bells are tolling in Panama City’s historic center as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at the city’s main cathedral.

At the halfway mark of his four-day visit, Francis will dedicate the new altar of the Santa Maria la Antigua basilica during Saturday’s Mass and then have lunch with youths in town for World Youth Day. In the evening he’ll celebrate an open-air vigil service, one of the mainstays of the Catholic Church’s youth festival.

During the Mass, Francis will be seeking to inspire Panama’s priests and religious sisters — after having sought to inspire Central America’s bishops, politicians and even its young prisoners.

Pilgrims lined the route of Francis’ open-sided popemobile as it wound its way through the narrow streets of the Casco Viejo old town, a UNESCO world heritage site.


1 a.m.

Pope Francis has sought to inspire Panama’s young people, its prisoners, its politicians and its bishops. On Saturday he turns his attention to the country’s priests and religious sisters as he reaches the midway point in his Central American visit.

Francis will celebrate Mass in the Santa Maria La Antigua cathedral in the old section of Panama City with the country’s priests and nuns. Later he’ll preside over the final vigil before World Youth Day’s culminating Mass on Sunday.

On Friday, Francis brought World Youth Day to Panama’s juvenile delinquents, celebrating an emotional penitential liturgy inside the country’s main youth prison since the inmates couldn’t participate in the Catholic Church’s big festival of faith outside.