Esther Carmona Wagner speaks to pilgrims during the Catholic Christian Outreach session at Anita Villalaz Theatre in Panama City. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Young Canadian missionaries offer powerful testimony

By 
  • January 24, 2019
PANAMA CITY — Esther Carmona Wagner’s heart was pounding out of her chest just before she took the stage at Anita Villalaz Theatre on Jan. 23. She even tried to ask for a chair because she was afraid her knees would buckle when she went on.


But the moment she opened her mouth and started talking, the Holy Spirit took over, she said, and her story of faith felt like it flowed from her body.

“It was something that I felt in my heart, so to be able to convey that passion allowed me to actually enjoy the presentation I was giving,” said Wagner.

The 26-year-old is one of 15 missionaries travelling with Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) at World Youth Day Panama. CCO is a Canadian campus ministry based in Ottawa.

For this group of Canadian pilgrims, WYD is not just about being a tourist or a pilgrim in the crowd. For these young adults, it is also an opportunity for evangelization.

“If they can see His love and they can see the love that I have for Him and it inspires them to love Him back, that’s all it means for me,” said Wagner.

Before arriving in Panama City, Panama, these pilgrim missionaries go through some training in the New Evangelization. Missionaries are equipped with a small booklet called “The Ultimate Relationship” which explains how a person can respond to Christ’s invitation to a personal relationship.

They are taught to reflect on their personal journey of faith and how to articulate it to others, on stage and one-on-one with other pilgrims.

Jeff Lockert said the personal testimony is still the most powerful tool of evangelization and a CCO mission is about leaning in to that power.

“I think especially in our culture today, young people like hearing stories about other young people,” he said. “It’s a way that people can share their faith that’s not imposing, it’s not off-putting…. It’s powerful to hear the witness of what God has done in someone’s life and it’s encouraging to those who hear it.”

Wagner worked for CCO in 2015-2016. When she moved back to Mexico City after her year with the organization, she realized that her faith became stagnant again. She didn’t have the same community support that held her accountable and encouraged her to grow in her faith.

So when she heard that CCO was organizing a mission to Panama, she knew right away that she needed to be a part of it.

“I noticed my faith was going down and I didn’t like that. I want to be a missionary, I desire to be, so I needed to be around other people that are also on fire for the Lord,” said Wagner.

CCO missionaries have a packed day. Because they are also host to one of 137 catechesis sessions across the city, their day starts at 6 a.m. They have a quick breakfast and a meeting for the day before heading to San Francisco de la Caleta Church to set up for the 800 English-speaking pilgrims that will gather together from 9 a.m. to noon.

The afternoon is the CCO group’s opportunity to participate in the main events of WYD with the rest of the more than 150,000 international pilgrims from about 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“My personal prayer is very short in the morning. I basically recite a psalm from the Liturgy of the Hours because that’s all I have time for,” said Wagner. “But you keep your heart open, looking for small opportunities from the Lord.”

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