PANAMA CITY – Pope Francis arrived on Thursday at the Palacio de Las Garzas (Herons’ Palace), the seat of the Panamanian government, for a private meeting with President Juan Carlos Varela, his first official act in the Central American country that is hosting this year’s edition of World Youth Day (WYD).
The pontiff was welcomed by Varela and his wife, Lorena Castillo, after which they posed for official photos and then moved to the president’s office for their private meeting.
Besides the meeting, which – as per standard procedure when the pontiff meets with world leaders – usually lasts about 20 minutes, Varela will also introduce his family and his team to Francis.
The pontiff and the president took a few moments to greet the people who had gathered to see them and observe the panoramic view of the bay, where today’s event with young people will be held.
Pope Francis will award the president with the commemorative medal of the trip representing Santa Maria La Antigua, while the president will present him with a rosary designed by artisan Agnes Santomenno with native details in silver and inlaid with jasper spheres.
The president will also present the pontiff with eight coins, six of them representing the Catholic churches of Panama’s Casco Viejo, as a second gift.
After the courtesy visit, the pope will travel with Varela to Palacio Bolivar (Bolivar Palace), the Foreign Ministry headquarters, where he will deliver a speech to some 700 people including officials, diplomats and representatives of civil society and culture.
According to his official agenda, the pontiff will then walk to the nearby church of St. Francis of Assisi, where he will meet with the bishops of the seven Central American countries – Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize.
Pope Francis is expected to address issues concerning the region’s churches during that meeting.
On Thursday afternoon, the first WYD event will be held, a reception ceremony at the Campo Santa Maria la Antigua and a speech by the pope to some 150,000 young people participating in the event.
Five young people representing the world’s continents will welcome Francis and present the patron saints of WYD, including Oscar Romero, who was recently canonized by the pope in Rome.