World Youth Day Recap: NDA Girls in Panama

Last week, six NDA girls attended World Youth Day in Panama City, Panama. The theme of World Youth Day was “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) Sophia Roukounakis ’20 recapped her experience in Panama below.

January 20, 2019 – First Full Day in Panamá City


On our first day, twenty-two pilgrims from St. Mary’s in Hanover visited Casco Viejo, a historic district of Panamá. The architecture was beautiful, and the local people were so welcoming. While we were in Casco square, we began to meet people from other countries. This was an amazing experience because with a language barrier, it is hard to communicate, but we all learned how universal and contagious a smile can be. The most memorable part of the day was when we visited stunning chapels, and even celebrate mass in one.  Day one was more of a tourist day but as the week went on, we began to dive deeper into the World Youth Day experience and witnessed each other grow throughout the whole trip.

January 21, 2019 – Gamboa Rainforest
Visiting the rainforest was a surreal experience. We got to witness the true beauty of Panamá and we saw the canal for the first time. The rainforest was an all-day adventure that started with a boat ride on the canal, where we went out to islands to see sloths and monkeys. The next part of the day we went up in a tram to the top of a mountain in the rainforest. The view overlooking the treetops and canal was breathtaking. It showed us all that we cannot take earth for granted and we all started to appreciate how lucky we were to be on the trip.
January 22, 2019 – WYD Opening Ceremony


On the day of opening ceremony, our group woke up early and headed out to our section to claim our spot. While we were there, thousands of people from all of the world began to surround us. Looking around was mind-blowing because of the amount of people and the grand Panamá skyline with the ocean right next to us. The most memorable part of the day was trading items and taking pictures with new friends because you never forget the people and countries you meet; every interaction is different.

January 24, 2019 – Pope Francis arrives

The arrival of Pope Francis was a very emotional day. Once again, our group headed out early to claim a spot where we relaxed for the day, danced, sang, and made new friends. When it came time for the Pope to arrive no one actually knew where he would be driving by, so we lined the gate and were lucky enough to see him. Everyone was so in shock and there are no words to describe what we felt, but being so close to one of the most influential/important people on earth takes your breath away.

January 25, 2019 – WYD events continue (Stations of the Cross)


Friday was a relaxing day, we walked back to Casco Viejo to hang out and experience the city one last time. We sang and danced a lot, but everyone was exhausted from lack of sleep and the amount of walking we had endured. Back at our hotel everyone took a nap in the lobby, then we were ready to head out again. We went back to our section and listened to the Stations of the Cross for the night, then returned to the hotel to get ready for the vigil field.

January 26, 2019 – Setting up camp on the Vigil Field


The craziest night of the trip was sleeping in the vigil field on pool floats with a million other people. The day was exciting especially with Pope Francis showing up because we were extremely lucky to see him again. All-day our group walked around, screaming songs and started dancing with other countries, we felt true love from people around the world. The night was special because Pope Francis led adoration and then the night continued as a huge concert. The environment was extremely positive and none of the group got much sleep due to our midnight adventures and bonding. What we discovered that night was what it meant to be a pilgrim, and how fortunate we were to experience the adventure with our best friends.

January 27, 2019 – Mass with the Pope

For our last full day in Panamá we celebrated mass with the Pope in the vigil field which was an interesting experience. It was extremely hot, and mass was in Spanish, but it brought out a lot of emotions because the situation was so overwhelming. We left a little early to beat the crowds but before we left Pope Francis blessed Panamá, and we ended up seeing him again when he drove by as we walked back to our hotel. The rest of that afternoon we relaxed by the pool, embraced the view and our last few hours of being in Panamá. To close out the trip, the group dressed up and went out to dinner on the canal with Cardinal Seán O’Malley. Sad that the trip was over, we were all pretty emotional coming home, but we were all extremely happy with how the trip’s outcome and how close we all became. The trip was the most lifechanging experience all of us had, and we will never forget our favorite memories. The memories are a constant reminder of how-to life to the fullest, welcome new experiences, and how to live more like a Pilgrim.


The biggest take away from the trip was the importance of saying “yes”. Do not wait for the future to say “yes” to God’s plan, the first “yes” is a gateway to a new life. As the Pope said, Mary changed the world when she had trust in God and said “yes” to the path he had chosen for her. Say “yes” to the small things and your life will never be the same.