We are very grateful to the Vatican News Agency for Sofia Lobos’ insightful interview with our Eastern Province confrere Father Joseph Fitzgerald, CM (Executive Secretary of the National Coordination of Indigenous Ministry [CONAPI].

For those who can read Spanish the original can be found at https://www.vaticannews.va/es/iglesia/news/2019-01/jmj-panama-entrevista-jovenes-indigenas-emji.html

Gathering of Young Indigenous Men and Women:

Celebrate Faith and the Richness of Culture

[The Vatican News Agency interviewed Father Joseph Fitzgerald, CM, one of the organizers of the event who stated: We want young indigenous men and women to be aware of the fact that they are heirs of a great spiritual richness, heirs of a joy and a culture that the world so desperately needs].

The World Gathering of Indigenous Youth is an initiative that has been inspired by the words that Pope Francis spoke to the volunteers during the World Youth Day celebration in Kraków (2016). There the Pope spoke about young people as hope of the future. That hope for the future, however, is conditioned by two realities: memory and courage. The first [reality] is to remember. Trying to understand where I come from: the memory of my people, my family, my whole history … the second [reality] … have courage, be strong, don’t be afraid (Pope Francis, Meeting with Volunteers, July 31, 2016).

[Full text of Pope Francis’ Message”]

Memory and courage in order to be hope of the future

Those words of Pope Francis gave birth to the idea of gathering together indigenous young people in order to celebrate their faith from the perspective of the millennial richness of their culture. At the same time this gathering would provide these young people with an opportunity to share their challenges and their hopes. Months of work and organization will be made visible in the World Encounter of Indigenous Young People. This gathering will take place in the community of Soloy, the reservation of the Ngäbe-Buglé (Diocese of David in the Republic of Panama) and is part of the Vincentian Youth Gathering.

In this interview with the Vatican News Agency, Father Joseph Fitzgerald, CM (Executive Secretary of the National Coordination of Indigenous Ministry [CONAPI], the primary organization that is promoting this event from January 17-21 2019) stated: This is a wonderful opportunity to respond to the Pope’s invitation that young men and women express their gratitude for the history of their people. At the same time, they are able to respond to the call to act with courage and to embrace the challenges that surround them. In this way they can move forward with hope and participate in the construction of a new world. Delegations from Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, etc. are expected to participate in this gathering.

Challenges that indigenous young people confront

We take ownership of the memory of our past in order to build up the world with courage … such is the theme of this gathering, a theme that was chosen by the indigenous people in Panama who are members of the organizing team. The theme is in accord with the primary challenges that this new generation of indigenous people must confront. Each day these young men and women are called up to overcome obstacles such as marginalization, financial uncertainty, living their identity in the midst of a world that so often does not understand or value cultural differences.

The Logo of the 2019 Indigenous Gathering

It is important to highlight the importance of the logo of this gathering. First, we see the cross, the central symbol of our Christian faith … a symbol that invites young people to commit themselves and follow in the footsteps of Jesus who is the fullness of hope for our people.

The roof of the house made from traditional indigenous materials symbolizes the unity of the members of a community that walk together. The cocoa is the sacred fruit of many Mesoamerican people. Father Joseph stated: we drink cocoa in a spirit of solidarity during significant moments in the life of the community. This enables us to experience ourselves as true brothers and sisters, as a family.

 The roots of the plant represent our respect for Mother Earth who gives life. Furthermore, corn is a basic food for the indigenous people and is seen as the sacred food of our people.

 Finally, the chameleon invites everyone to respect the rich diversity of God’s creation. Young people are invited to commit themselves to maintain an intimate relationship with all of God’s creation and to view this gift as an inheritance that they have received from their grandparents.

What are the fruits that you hope to obtain from this meeting?

Father Fitzgerald explained: We hope that young people can get to know each other; that they will focus on the commitment and the good example that they have witness in their villages … places where so many have fought and given their lives to protect their people. We hope that these young indigenous men and women come to recognize that they are heirs of a great wealth, of a joy and a culture that the world so badly needs, and that they return to their homes renewed and strengthened in their faith.

 Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM Eastern Province, USA

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