Pope Francis leaves Wednesday for Panama, his 26th trip outside of Italy, to celebrate the January 22-27 World Youth Day 2019 during which, among other events, he will give seven speeches and celebrate Masses and a penitential liturgy.

Francis will dedicate the altar of Panama’s recently restored 400-year-old cathedral, hold a meeting and break bread with bishops from Central America, and also share a meal with some of the youth at WYD – this is now a traditional event at these celebrations with Pope Francis. In yet another tradition, he will visit a prison and also go to an HIV center. The Holy Father will be in Panama until January 27th.

The youth day theme is: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Reports from Panama City say that a massive power outage hit Panama on Sunday (Jan 20), three days before the arrival of Pope Francis for a World Youth Day festival, authorities said. The electric power company ETESA said service to various parts of the country had been affected by “an event in the integrated national system.”

“Teams are working to re-establish service as soon as possible,” the company said on Twitter.

ETESA, which gave no details on the cause of the outage, said power would be restored gradually.

Despite the outage, the capital city’s Tocumen International Airport and the busy and vital Panama Canal were able to activate backup systems and maintain normal operations, authorities said.

But water supplies were affected in several parts of the country. The water treatment plant serving Panama City was among those knocked out, the country’s Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers said on Twitter.

Linda Bordoni of Vaticannews reports that hundreds of thousands of young people are converging on Panama City to participate in the 34th World Youth Day, an event that was established by Pope St. John Paul II in 1984.

She presents an interview with Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez who revealed that preparations to host the event kicked off on July 31, 2016 when Pope Francis wrapped up the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, with the announcement that Panama City had been chosen as the next venue.

Describing his people as “noble and hard-working” and “full of faith and hope,” he said that since 2009, when the country was preparing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the first Catholic diocese on the American continent, many began to dream of the possibility of a papal visit to Panama. That dream, he said, has finally come true.

The President also noted that to welcome the Pope – not for a pastoral visit to a particular country – but for an event that gathers thousands of young people from all over the world in one place, is perfectly in keeping with Panama’s vocation to be a bridge and a mediator.

Once again, he said, Panama will be the country that “builds bridges between nations and cultures, a meeting point, a starting point for Pope Francis’s message that will be spread from here to all corners of the earth.”

President Varela went on to explain that as well as prepare from a logistic and organizational point of view, so that the pilgrims will be able to experience this gathering with the Pope in the best possible way, authorities have also tried their best to make sure that they will be able to enjoy what their “small, great nation” has to offer.

“Everything is ready,” he said, “mobility, health and emergency plans are already being communicated to the general public.” A new subway line is working, transportation has been increased and new pedestrian routes have been inaugurated.

“As a Panamanian,” he concluded, “I feel honored that our country will be at the heart of the world for a few days, pumping the Pope’s message of hope, unity, solidarity and concern for those in need.” (interview courtesy vaticannews).