PANAMA CITY – Jose Maria Granado, a 20-year-old from the Nicaraguan Caribbean city of Siuna, has traveled 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) by bus in the past 48 hours to see Pope Francis in Panama, where the pontiff will be participating in World Youth Day (WYD), hoping that the head of the Roman Catholic church will tell the world about the situation in Nicaragua.
Granado said he wanted the pope “to tell the world about what’s going on in Nicaragua,” which was rocked last year by violent protests against President Daniel Ortega.
The protests against Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, were triggered by a proposed welfare system overhaul and continued even after those plans were scrapped on April 22.
Demonstrators accused Ortega, who has been in power for the past 11 years, of abuse of authority and corruption, and called on him to resign.
Granado, who resents the lack of a stronger response in the region to the grave political crisis in his country, is well aware of the pope’s power in the media and the vast reach of his words.
“We were advised not to say anything to avoid problems when we come back, but this is our chance. We have to speak up so the pope tells the whole world what’s happening to us here,” said Granado, who took part in last year’s anti-government protests and spent some time in El Chipote prison.
Camilo Armando Mora, a university student also from Siuna, has traveled a similar distance with the same hopes.
“I think we’re all hoping the pope will send us a message of encouragement to keep fighting for a free Nicaragua,” Mora said.
From Tuesday to Sunday, Panama will host WYD, a major event of the Catholic Church, at which the pope meets every three years with young people from around the world.
This is the first time WYD is held in the largely Catholic region of Central America, where the only pontiff to visit it previously was Pope John Paul II in 1983 and 1996, and which more than 4,000 Nicaraguans are expected to attend.
Since the conflict erupted, the pontiff has spoken several times about Nicaragua. The last time was on Jan. 7, when he said he was “closely” following the situation in that “beloved” country.
Francis, who arrives in Panama this Wednesday, will speak during his Masses about the problems of youth, migration and the environment, according to the official program issued by the Holy See, though it does not rule out some mention of Nicaragua and another of the region’s worst problems, Venezuela.
Ortega will not attend WYD, despite being invited by the Panamanian government, as were all other Central American presidents.