By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
123 youths from Zimbabwe’s eight dioceses joined over 3 million young people from around the globe to celebrate the 2019 World Youth Day with Pope Francis in Panama. The pilgrims had a send-off mass on 9 January 2019 at Rockwood Spiritual Centre with the Archbishop of Harare, Robert Christopher Ndlovu, Bishop Paul Horan of Mutare Diocese, National and Diocesan Youth Coordinators and parents who had come to bid them farewell. The Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Prisca Mupfumira also attended the farewell dinner and wished the delegates well with her motherly blessing.
The youths were accompanied by Bishop Michael Bhasera of Masvingo, eight priests, five sisters, and one brother. 76 youths came from the Archdiocese of Harare, 10 were from Mutare, 8 from Gweru, Masvingo 20, Chinhoyi 3, Hwange 3, Gokwe 2 while only one came from the Archdiocese of Bulawayo.
Archbishop Ndlovu challenged the pilgrims to utilize the trip to nurture their spiritual growth and faith. He called them to be open to learn new things that promote their prayer life, to share their faith and interact at a spiritual level.
The Archbishop said: “You are not going to Panama as tourists or for shopping but to pray, share your faith and interact at a spiritual level for spiritual growth and development. Let this be a pilgrimage of faith.”
Archbishop Ndlovu warned the youth that they should not take this as a gateway to escape from Zimbabwe as economic refugees to Europe but that their return should actually benefit the local church when they share their experience of faith and help find ways of improving the ministry of evangelisation in the country.
He challenged the church and society to stop referring to youths as leaders of tomorrow as this procrastinates their commitment to service in the church and economic development.
“Youths should not be referred to as future leaders as this postpones their commitment to responsibility. Instead, you are leaders of today and tomorrow,” stressed Archbishop Ndlovu.
The National Youth Coordinator, Fr. Johannes Maseko warned the youth to be focused and to represent their country, their church and their faith. He said the youth pilgrimage to Panama was an opportunity for young people to emulate Jesus their master who leads and guides them and that the pilgrims should rely on the Holy Spirit who dispels fear.
“Life is a journey where we search for satisfaction and meaning. Jesus assures us that he is the satisfaction we long for as we travel to Panama,” said Fr. Maseko.
Fr. Maseko said the youth were faced by many challenges that drown them in deep waters of confusion. “These are waters of drug abuse, unemployment, political intolerance and other social imbalances,” highlighted Fr. Maseko urging the pilgrims to seek for a solution in prayer.
The experience of Panama and the interaction of the youths from around the globe was an opportunity for self-growth, said the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Prisca Mupfumira. Mupfumira said the youths should take the pilgrimage as an experience of transformation. She urged the delegation to conduct themselves becomingly and to maintain their dignity so that they raise the flag of Zimbabwe, the church and their families.
“All that glitter is not gold. Remember that you are ambassadors of the Catholic Church and of your country Zimbabwe, but be ambassadors of prayer as well. Don’t take advantage of your distance away from family and home to engage in illicit behaviour or other antisocial acts that tarnish the image of the church in Zimbabwe,” warned Minister Mupfumira who is also a devout Catholic.
Minister Mupfumira called the pilgrims to pray for the Zimbabwean leadership regardless of political affiliation that they may be God fearing in discharging their duties.
The National Youth Coordinator, Fr. Johannes Maseko and other Diocesan Youth Coordinators including Frs. Claud Maganga, Archdiocese of Harare; Taurai Nyambiti, Mutare Diocese; Romeo Chirenje, Chinhoyi Diocese; Victor Musendeki, Gweru Diocese; Nigel Tsuro, Archdiocese of Harare; Wilbroad Godzongi and Davison Hamadziripi both from Masvingo Diocese, Br. Francis Mapwashike, Srs. Evelyn Mutuzu, Maria Mugariri, Sheila Chinaa and others accompanied the youth to Panama.
The first World Youth Day was in 1986 in Rome, Italy under the theme “Always be prepared to make a difference to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you 1Pt 3:15.” The last World Youth day was in 2016 in Krakow, Poland under the theme, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy Mt 5:7”. This year’s will be held in Panama under the theme: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to my word”, Lk 1:38.