Natalie Doherty Reflects on WYD and the impact on her work in Kilnamanagh Parish

Natalie Doherty Reflects on WYD and the impact on her work in Kilnamanagh Parish


The group of 30 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Dublin left in the early hours of Friday 18th January and flew to Paris where we got our connecting flight to Panama. It was a full day’s travel going to, and coming back, but spirits and excitement were high among the group. We were heading to a host parish where we would join pilgrims from Latvia and New Zealand to spend some days ministering in the parish. Overall, the parish hosted 800 pilgrims from different parts of the world. Official reports say that around 500,000 pilgrims attend the programme days, with 700,00 attending the Vigil and Papal Mass on the Sunday morning. Like World Meeting of Families, a theme was selected that influenced the logo, the official hymn and prayer, as well as the days of catechesis, or teaching. The theme for Panama came from Luke’s Gospel and centred on Mary where she proclaimed “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”


We arrived to a very loud, colourful, party-filled welcome from the parish where they provided food, music, dancing and fireworks. After the celebrations, host families stepped forward to be matched with the pilgrims. First thing on the Saturday morning, Kevin and 4 other pilgrims headed to the university for a seminar on Laudato Si and how we can care for their common home. The Saturday afternoon to Monday was spent in the parish partaking in a “mercy” programme, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need. Our host parish was a very poor, troubled parish that has many issues with violence, relating to drugs, and the parish had heavily armed police presence. The afternoon was spent sharing our faith experience as young people from Ireland, Latvia, New Zealand and as well as the young people from our host parish. We concluded by cooking and sharing an evening meal together. Sunday was the celebration of Mass, a celebration that lasted over 2 and a half hours! All cultures contributed to the Mass, making it one of the most colourful Masses I’ve been to and we were treated to a performance of traditional Panamanian dance. When Mass finished, the Dublin group cooked and served food for everyone – which was over 500 people. Monday started with a talk from Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, on the theme of mercy before we began a day of outreach. This included visiting the sick and housebound, playing sports with local children to keep them out of danger and off the streets, as well as, preparing and bringing food to those most in need, people who hadn’t eaten in many days.


Tuesday commenced the official WYD programme. The programme included the opening ceremony with the local Archbishop, sessions of catechesis based on the official theme lead by different bishops on Wednesday and Thursday, along with the various Papal events. On Wednesday, we had Bishop Mark Brennan from Baltimore leading our catechesis and on Thursday we had Archbishop Simon Poh from Malaysia. In the evening, we had the festival events to attend, along with the official welcome of Pope Francis. Friday, we had a Reconciliation themed day with a reconciliation service, time for confession and we celebrated Mass together before we headed to the Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis. Saturday was the walk out to the vigil site in 36 degree heat. We set up our camp and the evening of prayer, music, dance, testimony, and the words of Pope Francis was highly inspiring. We tried our best to get some sleep but staying beside Latin American groups meant drums and singing rang out through the night. We were up at 4am and celebrated the Mass with Pope Francis at 8am. Portugal was announced as the next host country before we headed back to our parish houses, and tried to get some sleep. We had a debrief on the Monday and some days for tourist activities, including seeing the Panama Canal, before we said our goodbyes and left on the Wednesday evening.


Panama was a far distance from Kilnamanagh-Castleview and since it is an event centred on youth, you may think “it’s great to hear that we had parishioners attend, but it has nothing to do with me”. However, Pope Francis said at the vigil:


“There is a question that we older people have to ask ourselves, but also a question that you need to ask us and we have to answer: What roots are we providing for you, what foundations for you to grow as persons?” 


The future of our parish and our church, depends on the young families and youth. There can be a tendency to say that there are no young people, no families actively involved in parish life. That is certainly true, but we must ask ourselves: how are we reaching out? What welcome, support, opportunities or roots of faith are we passing on and making available to youth and young families. Even if the number is small, how do we support and nurture?


Last week I marked 3 years in the parish and while I continue to trudge along, I can’t do anything by myself. Lent is almost upon us, and that will mark the beginnings of our parish response to the realities of climate change that is being presented before us and what we can do as parish to ameliorate the effects of climate change. This will be my focus for the coming year. Dublin Diocese took the theme of World Youth Day and phrased it as “Dare To Say Yes”. We wore the slogan for 2 weeks and we committed to say “Yes” to something coming home, to moving forward so that Panama wasn’t just a wonderful trip, rather a vital step and rooting in our faith journey. My “Yes” is to continue to provide the roots of faith and a safe world for the next generation to flourish in. I now extend that challenge to each one of you: do you dare to say yes and join me on my mission this year?