Panama is preparing to welcome Pope Francis, who is expected to draw about 150,000 Catholic young people to the Central American country to celebrate the church’s World Youth Day.
The six-day event was scheduled to take off with a Tuesday mass ahead of the pope’s arrival late Wednesday.
The celebration, which is staged every two or three years, is being held in Latin America for the third time. It was previously hosted by Buenos Aires in 1987 and Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
Francis, who has not been to Panama before, is the second pontiff to visit the country after John Paul II.
The Argentinian pope will stay in Panama until Sunday. His programme includes a meeting with Central American bishops, a visit to a youth prison and a meeting with young people suffering from AIDS.
The Catholic reform movement We Are Church has called on Francis to speak out on the situation of thousands of Central American migrants trekking towards the United States.
The pope and bishops should address the “catastrophic social situation” in parts of Central and South America, as well as the “inhuman policy” of US President Donald Trump, who has vowed not to allow the migrants to enter his country, said Christian Weisner, a spokesman for the movement.
One of the migration routes passes through Panama, he pointed out.
Nearly 90 per cent of Panama’s 4 million residents are Catholics.