A Missionary serving the poorest in Boyle Heights

By: Luis Chacon
Province Coordinator for Volunteers

Fr Marcos Castillo is a Salesian of Don Bosco born in the city of Santa Ana, El Salvador. He is a former student of the Colegio Salesiano San José. He professed as a Salesian of Don Bosco in 2009 and was ordained a priest in 2019. At this time, Fr Marcos is 33 years old, and his favorite hobbies are: playing basketball, hiking, volleyball, skateboarding, lifting weights, reading, and spending time with the youth.

Fr Marcos came to the United States to take care of his mother and be close to family. He is living in the Salesian community of Los Angeles. This community is home to Salesian Priests, a Salesian Cooperator, and Lay Missionaries. It is a community with many pastoral fronts: Salesian High School, Saint Mary’s Parish with an Elementary School, Saint Isabel Parish with an Elementary School, Saint Bridget in Chinatown with the Mary Help of Christians Community Center, and the Salesian Family Youth Center, which has more than six programs that work for the good of the children and youth of Los Angeles.

Regarding his vocation as a Salesian, Fr Marcos has discovered that the figure of the young has repeated patterns regardless of culture or country. In particular, he has mentioned the spiritual need of young people searching for God in a fast-paced society. He has found that young people both here and in Latin America are searching for something more profound than the convulsive proposals from abroad.

After a couple of months of being in the Salesian community of Los Angeles, Fr Marcos has shared with us that the pastoral environment of this community is challenging. Fr Marcos affirms the need to propose the Salesian charism more personally here in Los Angeles and the world. He says, “They need to see us, feel us at hand, feel that we can share, talk with the young and be congruent with what we have professed as religious. That we can sit down to eat with the young, that we can be that close and paternal figure”, as Don Bosco has asked us since the creation of the Salesians.

In Los Angeles and El Salvador, the SDB must be a spiritual teacher, a close friend who “wastes time,” and dedicate informal moments to children and young people from schools, parishes, and the Youth Center. “It is necessary that we as a Salesian community be happy to spread that happiness,” affirms Fr Marcos.

He has come across all these preventive measures in dealing with minors emphasized in the United States more than Latin America. Therefore, he invites us not to be afraid to take the initiative and show children and young people that they are important. Some examples include a friendly greeting when receiving the children and young people to the Salesian houses, sitting next to them in moments of free time, following the guidelines of Safeguard the Children, and sharing life without being embarrassed to speak about God out of fear.

Fr Marcos shared a moment of joy that occurred when he had finished confession with some young people. He asked them if they were happy, to which they answered him that they were happy, and he did not stop affirming that God was pleased with them being happy. So with this story, Fr Marcos reflected that “There are vocations here. The only problem is that sometimes we don’t have the strength to dig because we don’t want to use shovels but trucks or tractors to facilitate the work of accompaniment with the young people. But something so delicate (such as vocation) has to be treated with simple tools, not with large machinery because we work with the people’s soul, not with the construction of freeways. Have you seen how fossils are discovered? It is something so delicate that it is discovered not with chisels but with brooms and small brushes”.

He has shared that he has had several experiences of closeness with young people and children in which a vocational proposal could be launched. For example, a young man from El Salvador asked him for advice to see which club to choose or when the children in the Family Youth Center were filled with joy that he had learned a new greeting to them. All of these are opportunities to start a process of formation and accompaniment; however, Fr Marcos affirms that “You have to be frank, and that’s what I signed up to do. We don’t want to work, but we want to continue to have these comforts. We are afraid to interfere with young people because we know we will be questioned and obsolete, but that is not true. What young people want is someone to accompany them”.

Fr Marcos affirms that Los Angeles is a land of mission that has gone through many adversities. For this reason, we are at the perfect moment to give hope to the Salesian Communities and the young people since God will never leave us alone and will always continue to trust us.

Fr. Marcos expresses the joy that fills his Salesian heart at seeing so many new Salesian brothers. He states, “It encourages me as a young Salesian to see so many lives in a first world country giving their lives for the mission (SDB brothers and lay people ). I am happy and motivated that they have made me feel at home here as in Central America and that this mission in Los Angeles is also mine”.

We invite you to raise a prayer to Mary Help of Christians for the entire Salesian Family of this Province and especially for religious vocations, like that of Fr. Marcos. They have decided to generously donate their lives for the mission and dream of Don Bosco.