Panama City, Panama, Jan 24, 2019 / 08:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When you go to stay at someone’s house for a week, it’s not unusual for the host to tidy the place up a bit to get it ready for you.
It’s more unusual when the host completely remodels a floor of the building in anticipation of your arrival.
That is exactly what happened when a delegation of students from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania came to stay with Franklin Chu, a diesel mechanic who lives in Panama City. Chu housed the large group in his factory, but made some improvements first.
“They cleaned up the upper level, made some rooms, moved some things around, and put in showers just for us,” Tim Plocinik, the high school’s principal, told CNA.
“[Chu’s] very excited to host us, and he joins in with us every morning…he’s so proud that we are there to share this experience.”
At least 75,000 young people from 156 countries are currently in Panama City for World Youth Day, an international gathering of young people designed to strengthen them in their faith and give them a chance to meet other young Catholics from around the world.
That number is expected to increase for events later in the week, culminating with an overnight prayer vigil and closing Mass with Pope Francis over the weekend.
Plocinik said he can’t say enough about Chu, his staff, and his family’s hospitality.
“He and his staff have taken us in and given us wonderful accommodations. They’re feeding us and making sure we have water, and going out of their way to make sure we’re as comfortable and enjoying the event as much as possible,” Plocinik said.
“[Chu’s] become a rock star to our kids. They all want selfies with him.”
Finnian Sweeney, a tenth-grader at the Pennsylvania high school, echoed Plocinik in his praise of the Panamanian people in general.
“Everyone is so nice, and they love having us here…everywhere we walk we have people honking their horns, cheering, saying hello,” he said.
Hannah Schmid, an eleventh-grader, noted how generous Chu had been to them.
“He’s amazing. When we first got there he was so excited to see us. He’s been so hospitable to us, it’s unbelievable,” she said.
Many pilgrims noted that the general mood among the locals seems to be one of joy to have so many young people in their country. Plocinik said even when their delegation walked through a much poorer part of town, the welcome they received was no less graceful.
“Everywhere we go, the Panamanian people are beeping their horns, they’re reaching out to people giving them high fives,” he said.
“The culture here has just been absolutely phenomenal…everywhere we go, we get encouraged by the people.”
Christian de la Cruz, an 18-year-old Panamanian pilgrim, told CNA that his delegation, which is mainly made up of other Panama residents, has taken several pilgrims from Venezuela into their group as well.
“They feel like Panamanians…they sing our songs, we all interact, it’s all good,” he said.
De la Cruz said he wants to encourage the pilgrims coming from other countries, partly because being a pilgrim is not easy.
“We also try to cheer for other countries,” he said.
“It’s hard to walk, to be a pilgrim. It is hard. And if it is hard for us, and we are in our country, imagine how hard it is for people who travel and spend money, saving money to come here.”
He said he is looking forward to meeting more people and welcoming them to his country.
“I [make] good memories for me by giving good memories to others,” he said.
The 15th international World Youth Day continues until Jan. 27 in Panama City.
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