By Jonah McKeown
The 15th international World Youth Day ended Sunday with a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis attended by hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world.
At the end of the Jan. 27 Mass, it was announced that the next World Youth Day will be held in Lisbon, Portugal in 2022. Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was in attendance, as well as several other political leaders from throughout Central America.
The official count for the attendance at the final Mass has not yet been released, but the park had an official capacity of 700,000.
Despite the large crowds, the Mass had far fewer people attending than previous World Youth Days. In 2016’s Krakow gathering, the final Mass attendance was estimated at 2.5 million.
Even more Catholics showed up for the final Mass on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro – about 3 million.
Ola, a pilgrim from Poland, told CNA after the final Mass in Panama that she didn’t feel as though this World Youth Day was “smaller” than the one held in her home country, and that she enjoyed the difference in the cultures of Panama and Poland.
“In Krakow it was totally different because I was a volunteer, and now I get to experience it as a pilgrim,” she told CNA.
“There are a lot of different people here…I don’t think [it feels smaller].”
Raphael Volcof, 27, echoed Ola’s sentiments, saying it didn’t feel all that different than previous years despite the smaller numbers.
“I enjoyed WYD in Rio de Janeiro; in Krakow, Poland; and now I’m here in Panama, and I will go to the next one, to Portugal,” he told CNA.
“Brazil had more people, but here it’s almost the same. Very organized, the food is good, the language is not a problem for me, I think everyone is enjoying this…In Poland, it was almost the same. I think it’s because the people here have the same ideas.”
Pope Francis led Eucharistic adoration with the young people Saturday night, and later the pilgrims prayed the joyful mysteries of the rosary before settling in for an all-night, festive campout. A total of 600,000 people packed the park for the all-night vigil, according to official figures.
The young people were awoken around 6 am with loud music and shouts of “Buenos dias!” Mass began around 8 am.
The best attended World Youth Day was held in Manila in 1995; 5 million are estimated to have attend the closing Mass with St. John Paul II.
At the last World Youth Day celebrated by Benedict XVI, in Madrid in 2011, between 1.4 and 2 million were in attendance.