For the past 10 days, a thousand young adults have been on pilgrimage through Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama. As participants in MAGIS they have spent their time among the poor, immersing themselves in different cultures, learning to pray and reflect on their experiences, all while travelling the various roads to World Youth Day in Panama. Yesterday those roads led the pilgrims to the church of Colegio San Francisco Javier where they spent an hour with Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ – Superior General of the Society of Jesus.
With young adults from dozens of nations around the world, the pilgrims chose 5 of their own to voice their experience of MAGIS. With Fr. Sosa listening, they shared stories of uncertainty giving way to understanding, excitement being tempered by humility, fear turning into service of the very people of whom they were previously afraid. Fr. General thanked them for their service and honesty during their pilgrimage, then offered them a mission.
Only weeks ago, in his welcome message to the MAGIS participants, Fr. Sosa told them that they were pilgrims on mission in the same way that St. Ignatius himself was a pilgrim. As such, they should take to heart the lessons they were about to learn, the people they were about to meet, and the call they were about to hear. That call, Fr. Sosa continued, was for them, “to become a sign of the times.”
Reflecting on his own experience at the recent Youth Synod in Rome, Fr. Sosa offered the pilgrims what he called "the 10 signs of the Times": pivot points that can challenge the life of the church and contemporary society. One of those signs, how young adults perceive the movement of the Spirit of God through the world, comes about by putting young people in a space where they can dream, the spirit can move, and God can open the heart for compassion. It is in this space that we feel the pain of our brothers and sisters and, emboldened by grace, we can decide to place ourselves at the service of others in the belief that we can make a better world, a better humanity.
As his words settled, the pilgrims realized that Fr. General had just described the experience of the past ten days. They realized that they truly were pilgrims, and that they had heard a call, a mission. That they could see pain and suffering and exclusion all around them, and they were called to transform that world. That they were being offered the chance to be one of those signs of the times that could change the Church and society for the better.
After a brief Q&A with Fr. General, the pilgrims made their way back to their campus for the night. The next morning would see the start of World Youth Day festivities. The thousand will meet the millions. The singing and praying will become louder. The dancing will be more joyful.
And the mission will continue.