When Pope Francis announced at the end of the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, that the next gathering of Catholic young people would be in Panama, I thought pretty clearly in my mind that I would not be there. Krakow was my second World Youth Day – the first being in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 – and I thought it would be my last. But here I am, preparing to go on this unique pilgrimage with a group of young people from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis once more. We never know the directions God leads us!

Tonight, the first of two groups from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will begin the journey to the isthmus of Panama, where the American continents meet and where a great canal joins the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I will be with this first group to make our way to Panama City, there to join with hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims from all over the world, including our Holy Father, Pope Francis.

Over the next week, we will attend catechesis sessions, celebrate the Mass, meet and pray and learn with Catholics from throughout the world, and experience the culture and faith of the Church in Panama. Along the way, I hope to be able to share my experiences and those of our pilgrim group here on this blog.

For now, pray for safe journeys and openness to God’s grace for our group of pilgrims, and all who are traveling to World Youth Day 2019.