What kind of a Panama will Pope Francis encounter when he visits the country for World Youth Day later this month? The country is as Catholic as any of its fervent Central American neighbours, but it is currently undergoing a crisis of conscience regarding the separation of Church and state, given the $54 million (£43 million) cost of the event. Church organisers say that most of this will be funded through pilgrims’ fees and sponsors, and that the state is only responsible for “infrastructure and logistical support”.
However, apparently lavish spending by the government has attracted headlines. A red carpet for the Pope to walk on at Tocumen International Airport was bought for $14,000 (£11,000), while six rescue dogs, trained to help find people in events such as stampedes and earthquakes, cost $17,000 (£13,000). Questions have been asked about the possibility of corruption in the allocation of these contracts.
About 100,000 pilgrims are expected from Africa and 42,000 pilgrims from Central America and Mexico. Visa fees from many countries are being waived, as are the guarantees of solvency that people often have to pledge before entry to Panama. More than 200,000 pilgrims are expected in total.
Coverage of World Youth Day in the Panama media has also been coloured by another scandal, this time a murder trial scheduled to coincide with the youth event. The trial, which has become known as the “David Cosca case” because of its links to a priest, Fr David Cosca, relates to the death of a Panamanian, Eduardo Calderón, who was found dead in a hotel room in Panama City last July. Fr Cosca had paid for the room, while the priest’s godson, Hidadi Santos Saavedra, is one of two people accused of murder. The priest himself, who has been suspended from his parish, has not been accused of a crime. The trial will begin this month.
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