PANAMA CITY — Pope Francis sought Saturday to inspire Panama’s priests and religious sisters, acknowledging they have grown weary from the “wounds of the church’s own sin,” but urging them to find again the joy that sparked their vocations.
Francis celebrated Mass in Panama City’s main cathedral, Santa Maria la Antigua, which is considered the first cathedral of mainland America. He also consecrated its altar after a yearslong renovation, rubbing holy oil onto the altar’s marble top, his vestment sleeves rolled up.
It was the half-way point of Francis’ four-day visit to Panama for World Youth Day, the Catholic Church’s big youth rally.
In previous editions, the festival has seen millions of pilgrims gather, but the Panama version is a much-reduced affair. Only around 100,000 people picked up their registration materials by this weekend, though organizers estimated 400,000 people turned out for Francis’ Way of the Cross procession Friday night.
In his homily Saturday, Francis spoke frankly about the pressures, frustrations and anxieties facing priests and nuns in a rapidly changing world where it sometimes seems the Catholic message has no place.
Francis warned their weariness can sometimes be paralyzing due to the burdens of their work and the “toxic” conditions in some of their communities.
“The weariness of hope comes from seeing a church wounded by her own sin, which so often failed to hear all those cries that echoed the cry of the Master: ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’” Francis said.
It wasn’t clear if Francis was referring to the clergy sex abuse scandal, which hasn’t exploded yet in Central America as it has elsewhere. His papacy imperiled by the crisis, Francis has summoned church leaders from around the world to a summit next month at the Vatican to chart a way forward for the universal church.
He has made no mention of the crisis in his public remarks to Central American bishops or priests in Panama. The Vatican spokesman has defended his silence, saying he doesn’t need to mention the scandal for it to retain its place as a priority for the pope.
Francis, 82, has had a relatively easy schedule in Panama, unlike previous trips that have seen him jetting from one city to the next each day. After Mass on Saturday, he was lunching with young people participating in World Youth Day. Saturday night he was to preside over an evening vigil that is one of the mainstays of the Catholic festival.
On Sunday, Francis will celebrate a final Mass for the pilgrims, visit a church-run home for AIDS patients, and then head back to Rome. Organizers said the Sunday Mass would be attended by leaders from Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as the Portuguese leader.