We had been in the parish church in Soná praying the novena for Jesus Christ the Nazarene in Atalya for some time. Today is the high festival of this shrine.

So I got up at 4 a.m. today and at 5 a.m. we left by bus on this pilgrimage. Some of my host family had gone hiking on Friday night. The mountains here are a little too much for me. I need to practice to do a 3-hour hike with a temperature of 35°C in the Panamanian landscape.

Anyway. Once we arrived, the memories of the WJD were already starting to come back. We had to walk the last bit and there were thousands of people walking towards the basilica.

First we passed a location where you got free coffee and bread. I can't think of any place in the Netherlands where you get a free breakfast. Yes, in Ter Apel, but this was just charity from people helping the many pilgrims who go from all over the country to Atalaya to thank the suffering Jesus of Nazareth.

When the basilica was nowhere in sight, the queue began. It took us about 3 hours to get to the iconic statue of the suffering Christ. At the foot of the statue, I did not take pictures but entrusted my intentions and my life to Jesus.

While we were at the statue, Mass began. At least that's what I thought. Here in Panama, Mass begins with the reading of Mass intentions. And since they started at 8:55, I thought Mass would start at 9:00. But it didn't. The Mass intentions took 45 minutes to read aloud. That's because the intentions are delivered from all over the country.

The moment Mass began, which was celebrated in "the open air" and broadcast on TV, I could not guess that almost all the bishops from Panama would be there, including the nuncio.

Despite the heat in the tent, I was still able to celebrate with them. It was a beautiful Eucharist that I saw almost nothing of, but extremely many memories of World Youth Days surfaced.

After Mass, the procession with the statue of Jesús Nazareno de Atalaya began around the church. I don't know exactly how many people were there but more than 20,000. It was an amazing experience that I won't soon forget. A gift from heaven.

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