This morning, Oct. 25, at the USC Galen Center in Los Angeles, thousands of teenagers and schoolchildren gathered for the 4th Annual Christian Service 4LIFE Rally. The program featured Catholic musician Joe Melendrez, warming up the crowd with dancing and religious rap; media evangelist and head of the Word on Fire apostolate, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron (“Catholicism” and the new “Catholicism: The Pivotal Players”); a shadow play of Jesus’ life; Eucharistic Adoration; a homily from Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez; and a play written and directed by Catholic actor Matthew Marsden, staring Kelly Mohun and Don Forte, on “The Life and Works of Mother Teresa.”
Acting as host was Patrick Coffin, the former host of “Catholic Answers Live” on Immaculate Heart Radio (who’s in the process of launching a new podcast).
The enthusiasm and joy of the schoolchildren was beautiful and filled me with hope. In a world that is increasingly divided and disunified, this morning’s event showcased the beauty of community.
The play about Mother Teresa’s life reminded all of us about the simple call to do small things with great love. Mother Teresa was canonized by the Catholic Church last month and now joins the communion of saints in a special way, interceding on our behalf. She is an example of how we are called to love one another regardless of race, creed or beliefs.
Bishop Barron spoke about one of the newest saints to be canonized – Mexican Saint Jose Sanchez del Rio – who was 14 when he was tortured and martyred for not renouncing Christ. Bishop Barron asked the kids in the audience which ones were 14 years old. Many of them raised their hands in enthusiasm, and you could feel the energy in the room. “What if Christ could harness all of this energy, we would set the world on fire!” Bishop Barron exclaimed.
Dan Selmezcy of Saint Monica Academy in Pasadena choreographed the shadow dance. These images started with the
Annunciation and moved through the life of Jesus and Mary through the Crucifixion, Resurrection and coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven. The dancers beautifully showed the connection between Christ and the dignity of every human person.
In the middle of the program, Archbishop Gomez entered, holding a Monstrance, carrying the Blessed Sacrament for a time of prayer called Adoration, ending with Benediction. The monstrance is what holds the Host, the circular disk that is made into the body of Christ during Mass. Adoration is a time to stop and adore God, to acknowledge that God is, and to ask for His love and mercy. The loud and wild auditorium full of enthusiastic 7th-12th graders quieted down and entered into this time of prayer.
“Prayer is simply a conversation with God — just talking to him,” said Archbishop Gomez. During the Latin chant, “O Salutaris Hostia,” sung by Genevieve Grimm and her choir, there was a palpable prayerfulness that transcended the room. These children experienced something very natural – the desire to pray and be close to God. And yet, something very unusual in the daily life of a student – encountering God with thousands of other young people.
As I looked around, I found such hopefulness. Amidst the temptations to pessimism and the pervasiveness of cynicism, there was such hope in this event. From the young adults leading the events to the schoolchildren who attended, our Church is ever growing and ever full of hope!
The program ended with Thomas Quackenbush, a teacher from St. Monica Academy, leading the crowd in singing O Happy Day!
You may remember the song from the movie “Sister Act”:
What a fitting ending!
Images: Courtesy Laura Zambrana