Pope heading to Panama Jan. 23-27 for World Youth Day

July 9, 2018
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Pope Francis reads his message outside the St. Nicholas Basilica on the occasion of a daylong prayer for peace in the Middle East in Bari, southern Italy, Saturday, July 7, 2018. Pope Francis denounced the "complicit silence" that has allowed violence to consume the Middle East and drive tens of thousands of Christians from their homes, during a remarkable gathering Saturday of Orthodox patriarchs and Catholic leaders united in praying for peace in the region. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis will travel to Panama in January to participate in the Catholic Church’s big youth rally, the Vatican confirmed Monday.

The Jan. 23-27 trip, which was expected, will be Francis’ third World Youth Day. He attended the event in Brazil in 2013, months after his election, and in Poland in 2016.

A brief statement from the Vatican said the pope had accepted an invitation from the Panamanian government and Catholic bishops to visit.

There have been calls for Francis to stop in El Salvador en route to or from Panama to pray at the tomb of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero, whom Francis plans to make a saint in October at the Vatican. The statement Monday made no mention of a Salvador leg of the January trip.

While in Panama, Francis is expected to consecrate a colonial-era basilica that recently was restored. Panamanian organizers said Monday they also were looking into organizing papal visits to people who are sick or living on the margins — typical stops during Francis’ trips abroad.

President Juan Carlos Varela tweeted that he “shares the joy and excitement of the Panamanian people” and promised full government support for the pope’s visit.

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