Cheering reception

Cheering reception

Cologne's World Youth Day pilgrims were greeted in Panama with great jubilation and singing. They were not affected by the strike at Frankfurt Airport. For those who stayed at home involuntarily, however, the disappointment was great.

Even the Archbishop of Panama City did not miss the opportunity to welcome the guests: Monsignor Jose Domingo Ulloa Mendieta was beaming as he walked back and forth between the colorful groups of pilgrims at the airport exit on Tuesday, shaking hands and taking selfies with young people.

Rarely before has the airport of Panama City experienced such a hustle and bustle: For days, thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims from all over the world have been arriving here, packed with backpacks, singing and waving flags as they get off the plane and are greeted at the exit by the cheers of the waiting people.

Trembling before departure

The welcome was also loud and warm for the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cologne. After a long flight, the group landed on Tuesday evening. Tired faces, everyone wished for a shower, but there was great joy that things were finally getting underway: between singing groups of pilgrims from Mexico and Honduras, the people of Cologne intoned a "Viva Colonia". "The mood was already good on the plane," recounts Corinna Kowalski. For the 19-year-old student it is the second World Youth Day.

Until Monday evening, many of the participants from Cologne were still trembling about whether the Panama trip would work out, because a strike had paralyzed the Frankfurt airport on Tuesday. Since the weekend, Marthe Wolff and her colleagues from the Cologne-based Ferienwerk had been working on rebooking plans for the participants whose flight was to leave from Frankfurt.

Disappointment among those at home

"We couldn't believe it," she recalls of the first strike announcements. "We had planned everything so well, and then the!"Last weekend, her phone would not stop ringing. Many could still be rebooked, but for 21 participants from the archdiocese of Cologne it didn't work out in the end: "At the moment, all flights to Panama are fully booked because of World Youth Day," said Wolff. "And some tour groups we couldn't split up because minors were traveling with them."They will now probably have to wait until next Sunday.

The disappointment is great – even among those who are now already in Panama: "Of course, it's bitter that 21 of us can't be there now," says Max Kramer of the archdiocese's pilgrimage management, "but we're glad that we were still able to take so many with us." "It's really too bad," Corinna Kowalski also said, "but we're waiting for them to arrive!"

Joy to the host family

Twelve hours of flight behind her and the other participants, then by bus to the diocese of David in the northwest of Panama. There they will spend the days of the meeting. "I'm really looking forward to getting to know my host family," says Corinna. "And for a shower," she adds with a laugh. Bus ride lasts seven more hours. By the time they arrive, most will have been on their feet for well over 24 hours. Fatigue is great – but anticipation is even greater.

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