World Youth Day pilgrims from Panama. Their leader, Aquilino, is in the front. Credit: Kate Veik/CNA

World Youth Day pilgrims from Panama. Their leader, Aquilino, is in the front. Credit: Kate Veik/CNA

*By Mary Rezac and Kate Veik

Aquilino is 40 years old.

This year, he led a group of young people at World Youth Day in Krakow – some as young as 11 years old – from his hometown of Panama City.

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He went to his first World Youth Day in 2005, when he was 29 years old, in Cologne, Germany with Pope Benedict XVI. He’s been hooked ever since.

“In that moment, I learned that my church is great, and these kind of events show to the word the unity of the church, and the strength of the youth of the world,” he told CNA in an interview.

“It’s very important that people around the world can see what has happened here,” he added.

Since Cologne, Aquilino has been to every World Youth Day since – in Sydney, Australia in 2008 and in Madrid, Spain in 2011 with Pope Benedict, and then Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013 with Pope Francis.

Now, in Krakow with Pope Francis he said his biggest takeaway has been “faith and love,” which he said are badly needed both by his home country of Panama and by the whole world. He also hopes the young people he’s travelling with bring the fruits of this World Youth Day back home to Panama.

“I hope that the youngest of my group can live this experience and transmit all that they have learned here with their classmates and their families,” he said.

World Youth Day in Krakow is probably Aquilino’s last, as he wants to pass off the baton to the younger generation in his parish.

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Unless his home country of Panama is named as the next host country on Sunday.

“(Will I go) if the next World Youth Day is in Panama?” he said.

“Of course.”

UPDATE 7/31: Pope Francis announced that the next World Youth Day will take place in Panama in 2019! Looks like Aquilino gets to go once more!