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Celebration of the Eucharist during the summer mission takes place in the dry season in more than 50 villages of the parish of St. Vincent de Paul, located in Soloy, Panama

Celebration of the Eucharist during the summer mission takes place in the dry season in more than 50 villages of the parish of St. Vincent de Paul, located in Soloy, Panama

More than 1,000 young pilgrims will share their cultures, joys and struggles at a gathering of indigenous youth in a small town in Panama just before World Youth Day in January. The gathering will take place Jan. 17-21 in the Ngäbe territory of Soloy, in the Diocese of David, in western Panama.

Fr. Joe Fitzgerald, CM, a Vincentian missionary from Phildelphia

Fr. Joe Fitzgerald, CM

They are likely to be joined by several thousand local indigenous people, who will make the journey on foot or horseback, carrying food with them and setting up camp at the gathering place as is the custom during traditional assemblies, said Father Joe Fitzgerald, a Vincentian missionary from Philadelphia who heads the Panamanian Church’s national indigenous ministry office.

“This will be an encounter with the Lord through our culture,” Emilda Santos, 20, who is Ngäbe and one of the event’s coordinators, told Catholic News Service.

The gathering will take place Jan. 17-21 in the Ngäbe territory of Soloy, in the Diocese of David, in western Panama. Fitzgerald, 48, has worked in the Soloy mission parish since 2007.

The participants also will take part in World Youth Day Jan. 22-27 in Panama City.

At the indigenous event, participants will reinforce their identity by sharing traditional music and dance and dramatizations of the struggles they have encountered, Santos said.

“We want to free ourselves from social exclusion and also from religious exclusion,” because in society and even in the Church, “indigenous people are often marginalized,” she said.

Mini-pilgrimages during the event will enable the young people to explore and share their indigenous heritage. One will take them to a traditional cemetery and ritual cave, another to a village, and a third to a plant nursery, where they will prepare 5,000 seedlings to be sown later, when the rainy season begins.

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