Panama began receiving thousands of pilgrims who will hear next week the message of Francis during the World Youth Day, an event that will take place in a Central American region convulsed by the phenomenon of caravans of migrants to the United States.
Already about 15,000 of the nearly 100,000 pilgrims who have confirmed their registration to attend the conference are in Panama, many of them in the interior of the country as part of a pre-WYD program that includes cultural workshops, although they will go to the capital in the next days. Panama City will be the epicenter of the meeting.
Francis will arrive on January 23, when he will tour a part of the capital in the popemobile, and the next day will officiate the opening mass of the World Youth Day (WYD) in the Cinta Costera, the emblematic promenade of Panama City.
In his message, the Argentine pope will emphasize the need to give "opportunities to youth", especially in Central America, which faces a "harsh reality" and "is forced to emigrate or falls into the hands of drug trafficking", as already commented the archbishop of Panama, Monsignor José Domingo Ulloa.
The arrival of the pontiff to Panama is preceded by the departure this week of new migrant caravans of the troubled Northern Triangle, which make up Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, with the intention of reaching the United States which president, Donald Trump, promotes a hard anti-immigrant policy.
"We have to be honest. The reality of Central America, especially in recent months, has affected" the influx of people who will participate in the WYD of Panama, Ulloa acknowledged on Thursday, revealing that up to now only 100,000 pilgrims have registered for the event, when the expectation was at least 200,000.
Ulloa blamed this decline on the "circumstances" that suffer the countries of the Northern Triangle, which have prevented many young Central Americans "to accomplish that dream" of traveling to Panama to meet with Francis.
The lack of employment, poverty and extreme violence linked to gangs and transnational drug trafficking groups are the reasons given by the migrants who have left in caravan, both now and last October, when the phenomenon appeared, according to the testimonies that has collected Efe.
While the migrants walk to the North of America in search of a better life, thousands of Central American and Mexican pilgrims take the road to Panama and are assisted by the authorities of countries such as Honduras and Costa Rica, which have put in function plans to guarantee them a safe transit.
Authorities in Panama have said that at least 30,000 agents of the police forces are participating in a large security program, which includes 57 action plans and that will shield the capital and the pope with the support of the Italian Gendarmerie.
The government has decreed the closing of public offices from January 23 to 25, and confirmed the attendance of the presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Portugal to the great closing mass on Sunday 27.
Giant platforms, up to 9 meters high, plus several dozen screens are part of the arrangements in the Cinta Costera and Metro Park, on the outskirts of the capital, where Francis will lead a mass and a vigil, respectively.
The massive presence of visitors has led the local population to make abundant purchases of food in the last two weeks for fear of a shortage of supplies, an extreme that the Chamber of Commerce has rejected outright.
Boxes of bottled water and all kinds of canned food is the main offer of large supermarkets, Efe noted.
The private company and the tourism sector have said that they estimate that WYD will generate some 250 million dollars of incomes.