Back to List

Travel to the World Youth Day

January 22-27, 2019

On Thursday, January 11, I entered into a new experience which Providence was giving to me through the José Simeón Cañas University of Central America (UCA). This was the opportunity to coordinate a group of young people from Korea, Spain and El Salvador who were participating in the MAG+S gathering organized by the Society of Jesus in preparation for the World Youth Day. For a week, we lived with the people of the San Bartolomé Arcatao Parish, where we learned about and deepened the story of those who had lived through the Salvadoran Civil War. In the days of the war, we had to flee into the mountains and only returned after the war had ended.

The goal of this experience was to become acquainted with the historical memory that gives meaning to the life of this parish. We shared with families, we toured the communities, and we visited Los Tatúes in the Cerro de Cañada, where many persons from Arcatao had fled to avoid being killed. During the sharing of this historical memory with the team, one youth asked, “How did you manage to survive? What kept you alive?” Some persons answered, “The Gospel led us into our faith in God. Also, the courage of Monsignor Romero gave us strength to keep on fighting. With this, we knew what we had to do if we wanted to live or to give our life for our people.”  Others added, “A people who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it,” which is one of the phrases that the people of Arcatao repeat often.

For me, this experience was an encounter with the God who accompanies a suffering, yet hopeful people. Arcatao is, for me, the story of a living God, a God of love. Every face, every look, even though it carries a story of pain, carries at the same time the deep joy of knowing that in our Provident God’s hands, it is possible to move ahead and to organize ourselves in order to have a just and united community.

From January 18-31, I was in Panama with all young people participating in MAG+S.  In the early days, our team shared every experience with the many young people who were visiting Panama for the first time. When we shared with them, we noticed they had been impacted by their immersion into situations that they had thought they knew because they had heard about them, but they had not reached a deeper understanding until they lived with the people personally and their eyes were opened to what they could not see on screens while in their own countries.

MAGIS Central América 2019 closed with a Eucharistic celebration presided by Jesuit Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ,  who thanked the pilgrims for getting out of themselves and travelling to Central America to discover the immense greatness that surrounds us, and for opening ourselves up to that over which we have no control. This getting out of oneself makes us creators and transformers of something new.

With the MAGIS in our hearts, we joined more than a hundred thousand young people from all over the world from different congregations. Pope Francis arrived with words of hope for all the young people in the world. The Pope said, “Panama [is] today not only a channel that joins oceans, but also a channel where God’s dream continues to find new streams that enables it to grow, to multiply and to spread to every corner of the earth1.” Taking into account the slogan “May it be done to me according to your word” in his address, Pope Francis invited the youth to let themselves be surprised by the Lord, as God surprised Mary and invited her to become a part of the story of love.” The Pope spoke many beautiful words to us and this one stayed with me:  “We are the youth of now, of the present, and we have the energy to transform.” He said that we have to be committed to the transformation of our societies and cast aside the culture of disengagement which is visible in young people. He also asked the older people who were present what they are doing to generate the future in young people.  Are they willing to struggle so that the young will have an education, so that they will have work and will have communities?

As for me, I remain with the invitation to continue dreaming, to be disturbing and to being a voice that preaches and impels me to live the changes in my own life and in my mission with persons who are the neediest.  I am invited to be unafraid to tell Jesus that I want to take part in his story of love every day of my life.

Finally, I am very grateful to my religious community of the Sisters of Providence, to the UCA team and to my San Bartolomé Arcatao Parish for giving me this wonderful opportunity to accompany and coordinate these young people in living this experience.

Sister Vilma Franco, SP


  1. Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to Panama on the occasion of the 34th World Youth Day (January 23-28, 2019), “Welcome Ceremony and Opening of the World Youth Day” Campo Santa Maria la Antigua – Cinta Costera, Thursday, January 24, 2019, .