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 were in Panama and how happy they were to have us there. There were a lot of moments where we received providence from Mama Elsa’s friends or people we didn’t know would go out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed.There was even a moment when we were walking to the Vigil on Saturday night with 26 of us and quite a few bags and a truck pulled over and we put half of our group and all of our bags in the bed of the truck and the other half kept walking, but another truck saw and pulled over and they both drove us down the road. It was touching to see people who were so kind and so willing to go out of their way to help and expected nothing in return.
On Friday we were all able to go to confession and it was a moment of reconciliation and freedom and it was powerful to see the hundreds of confessionals and to see people from all over the world going to confession at the same time. After we all went to confession we were able to sing and dance and jump like Mother Elvira taught us to! To live the joy of being reconciled with God.People saw this 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 hear the intentions from all over the world it was really touching because a lot of the Latin American countries are living really difficult situations politically and economically and their intentions were really powerful. It was touching to see that even though they come countries immersed in violence and poverty that we were all able to come together and to do so peaceably and to see that they had so much joy inside and that their circumstances didn’t make them angry or bitter. That the young people had dreams of better futures for themselves and their countries.
Probably the best thing about Panama 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 reaching out for Pope Francis and in those days the Gospels were all about the crowds of people following Jesus. Don Massimo in his homily one day talked how we had also just experienced what it must have been like to be in those crowds of people pushing up against Jesus in our encounter with the Pope and how 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 to encourage us to “Be the youth of the present” “To make the adults uncomfortable” to challenge the youth to live the radical “Yes” that Mary lived. It was really powerful to see all the young people listening attentively to what he had to say.It was special to be able to live the night of the Vigil and to have adoration and then Mass with Pope Francis and 700,000 other people. It’s amazing to see that many people gathered together to celebrate the mass and Jesus.
Being able to go to Panama was such a big and beautiful gift it was a time that was very full time. We were able to experience so many different things and experience so many different cultures, to be able to see so many young people who want to live out their faith, and to be able to build friendships with each other and it was such a special time. I would like to thank the community for this gift for the trust to be able to go to World Youth Day and to represent the community. Also a big thank you to all of the people who provided for us to go on this trip and for those who provided for us while we we there thank you we will be praying for you and all of your intentions.