Our trip to Panama has been a big gift and truly a rich experience. As soon as we stepped off the plane in Panama we were greeted with a lot of joy and songs by the pilgrims and Panamanian people. Mama Elsa, a friend of the community, opened her heart and her home to us. We are truly grateful for all of the thought and love she has put into our trip because we really felt like one big family. She was an example of how to serve and we saw how she loved us by making sure we had everything we needed and getting us where we needed to go.
We started off our adventure each day with The Holy Mass. It was a huge blessing to have one of our Community priests, Don Massimo Marchi, with us so that we could begin each day in prayer with the Eucharist. Our group was unique. There were twenty-six of us in total which included all the different realities of our Community, representing eight different countries. There were two Missionary Sisters, one of our Priests and a consecrated brother, Joyce and Albino, three missionaries from Peru as well as three teenagers from the mission, two men from the house in Costa Rica, and eleven of us girls from St. Maria Goretti. It was a beautiful moment to come together and to encounter all of the different aspects of community, the houses. It was powerful to see how big community is, but at the same time we were very united and felt like family.
We started our days singing and dancing up and down the streets and on the buses. We found a lot of freedom in dancing and it was a moment to testify to the joy we’ve found in community. Music is one of our gifts and big part of our charism at St. Maria Goretti so it was special to be able to give this away in Panama. It gave so much life and joy to us and everyone around us when we would play and dance. Almost every time we finished a song the people around us would yell “Encore! Encore! Encore!” making the bus rides some of the best moments of the trip. These moments of freedom attracted people to want to know who we were and gave us the opportunity to speak to them about Community.
Before going to Panama we had prepared a “Flash Mob” presentation to do at World Youth Day. The dance talks about the different ways we’ve been enslaved by technology, our society, drugs and alcohol, and the issues the youth of today are faced with. It goes on to explain who we are as a Community—that we are public sinners. That we are people who had been completely lost in the world but through our walks in Community we’ve encountered Jesus through Mother Elvira and have been resurrected and freed from the bonds of our addictions. We performed it several times throughout our pilgrimage in Panama. It was a good way to draw in the youth, to speak to them about issues in their daily lives, and to be able to share our stories and the hope we’ve received in Community. Our desire was to show them that it is possible live a life that is fulfilling and brings true joy, a life that shows us we are good and capable of doing good, that we can live without any substances or the material things that the world says will make us happy.
It was refreshing to see how open and welcoming the people of Panama were and how happy they were to have us there. Throughout the course of the trip God really provided for us in every moment. We received so much from Mama Elsa and all her friends, and people we didn’t even know would go out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed. On Saturday afternoon we were all headed on foot with a lot of bags, guitars, and more to the vigil. As we went along a couple of strangers stopped in their pick up truck and loaded in as many of us and our bags as could possibly fit. Immediately after, another couple saw the rest of us and loaded us into their truck to bring us as far down the road as they could. It was deeply moving to see these people who were so kind and willing to go out of their way to help without expecting anything in return.
On Friday we were all able to go to confession which was a moment of forgiveness and freedom. It was powerful to see the hundreds of confessionals and people from all over the world going to reconciliation at the same time. After we all went to confession we were able to sing and dance and jump, as Mother Elvira has taught us, rejoicing in God’s mercy! People would see us and someone even stopped Albino and asked why we were so happy and he answered, “Because they’re free”. Later on in the day we were able to pray the Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis and all of the young people. The intentions came from all over the world. I was touched because many of the Latin American countries suffer with such difficult situations politically and economically and their prayers for the world and for peace were extremely powerful. It moved me to see that, even though they came from places immersed in violence and poverty, they had so much joy inside and their circumstances didn’t leave them angry or bitter. It is hopeful to see that the young people still have dreams of a better future for themselves and their countries.
I think the most beautiful part of the pilgrimage was that we were able to see the Pope on multiple occasions. It was an incredible experience to see Pope Francis and it really touched me because we were in huge crowds of hundreds of thousands of people who were all reaching out for him. It was perfect because in the days of the encounter all the Gospels spoke about the crowds of people following Jesus—reaching out for Him. Don Massimo, in one of his homilies, talked about how we had also just experienced what it must have been like to be in those crowds of people pushing up against Jesus. It showed how many people, and especially how many young people, were reaching out and searching for God. It was amazing to be able to pray with the Pope, to listen to his talks and hear him reach out to the youth. He invited us all to “Be the youth of the present”, “To make the adults uncomfortable”,and to challenge the youth to live the radical “Yes” that Mary lived. Seeing all of the young people listening attentively to what he had to say was a powerful and hopeful sign for our future. We then lived the night of the Vigil, eucharistic adoration, and then the Holy Mass with Pope Francis in communion with seven hundred thousand other faithful. I was truly amazed to see that many people gathered together to celebrate OUR faith, to celebrate Jesus.
Being able to go to Panama has been such a huge and beautiful blessing. It was truly a rich and fulfilling experience. We were able to encounter so many different cultures and peoples. We learned so much and were able to see hundreds of thousands of young people who want to live out their faith and be able to build friendships with one another. This has been a very special time and I would like to thank the community for this gift and for the trust to be able to go to World Youth Day, representing all of the Comunitá Cenacolo. Also a big thank you to all of the people who provided for us so that we could go on this trip and while we we there. Thank you, we will be praying for you and all of your intentions.