When Pope Francis, with his miter and robes, ceremoniously takes to the altar to say mass as part of World Youth Day celebrations in Panama next week, behind him will loom a giant mural its creator says bears a message against racism, a central theme of the pontiff’s visit. The mural painted by 50 novice artists — a subtle rebuke of President Donald Trump’s demand for a border wall against Central American migrants — will form the backdrop to Francis’s keynote mass at WYD 2019, a global gathering of Catholic youth. No masterpiece, it’s a work of heart more than a work of art. But it bears a strong message from Central American nations, according to its designer Ronaldo Domingo. “We cannot forget our roots and our poly-ethnic origin. Panama is Chinese, Indian, Black, European. Throughout our history we have had all races and cultures present here,” Domingo said. The pope will arrive in Panama on January 23 to participate in the WYD, where he is expected to refer to xenophobia, racism and the migration crisis affecting Central Americans. Novice painters Fleeing poverty and violence, thousands of mainly Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan migrants have joined several caravans heading to the United States in search of a more stable life. The vast majority end up blocked at the US border as they run up against a determined anti-immigration drive led by the White House, that critics say has whipped up a wave of xenophobia against Central Americans. Published in Daily Times, January 17th 2019.