VATICAN CITY (AP)– Pope Francis is aiming to leave the sex abuse scandal buffeting his papacy behind as he heads to Central America amid a standoff over President Donald Trump’s assured wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and a brand-new caravan of migrants heading north.

History’s first Latin American pope, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has made the plight of migrants and refugees a foundation of his papacy. He is also expected to offer words of encouragement to young individuals collected in Panama for World Youth Day, the church’s once-every-three-year pep rally that aims to revitalize the next generation of Catholics in their faith.

Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa said Francis’ message is likely to resonate with young Central Americans who see their only future devoid of violence and hardship in moving to the U.S.– “youths who often fall into the hands of drug traffickers and so lots of other realities that our young individuals face.”

The pope is anticipated to urge youths to develop their own opportunities, while calling on federal governments do their share too.

The check out is happening as the U.S. government stays partly closed down in a standoff between the Trump administration and Democrats over funding for Trump’s guaranteed border wall.

Francis famously has actually required “bridges, not walls.” After commemorating Mass in 2016 on the Mexican side of the U.S. border, he knocked anyone who wishes to construct a wall to stay out migrants as “not Christian.”

Crowds are anticipated to be smaller than usual for this World Youth Day– just about 150,000 individuals had actually signed up since last week– however thousands more will definitely throng Francis’ centerpieces, which include a vigil and a last Mass on Sunday. The Vatican conceded that the January date doesn’t suit school holidays in Europe or North America, both of which usually send out huge numbers of pilgrims to World Youth Day events.

Francis’ trip, the very first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a defining moment in the papacy as the Catholic hierarchy internationally is dealing with a crisis in credibility for concealing decades of cases of priests molesting young people.

The pope is anticipated to quickly rule on the fate of previous Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the high-powered U.S. archbishop accused of molesting minors and adults. And he is hosting church leaders at the Vatican next month on trying to chart a way forward for the worldwide church.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti stated there were no prepare for Francis to meet with abuse survivors in Panama. Central America hasn’t yet seen the surge of sex abuse cases that have shattered trust in the Catholic hierarchy in Chile, the U.S. and other parts of the world.

This is the first papal check out to Panama because St. John Paul II existed during a 1983 regional tour that notoriously consisted of an unscheduled stop at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Romero had actually been assassinated by right-wing death teams 3 years earlier, at the start of El Salvador’s civil war, for having spoken up on behalf of the bad.

Salvadoran bishops had actually hoped Francis would follow suit and make a drop in El Salvador this time to pay his aspects at Romero’s burial place given that Francis canonized him in October. However the Vatican stated a Salvador leg was never really in the cards.

Nevertheless, Gisotti stated Romero would likely loom big at the Panama gathering, provided he is such a point of recommendation for young Central American Catholics who matured learning about his defense of the poor.

The Panama see is likewise the very first by a pope because the Vatican embassy played an important function throughout the 1989 U.S. intrusion of Panama, when totalitarian Manuel Noriega took refuge there and asked for asylum on Christmas Eve after 4 days on the run trying to leave U.S. troops.

Noriega ultimately surrendered, giving an end one of the more uncommon U.S. military operations: It included U.S. soldiers blasting heavy metal and rock music– including Van Halen’s “Panama”– at the embassy to try to force Noriega out.

Noriega, an one-time U.S. ally, ultimately served a 17-year drug sentence in the United States. He passed away in 2017 after his last years were invested in a Panamanian prison for the murder of political challengers throughout his 1983-89 routine.

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