Many of Bishop Alemany High School’s students saw and heard the archdiocese’s episcopal leader in person for the first time May 28, when Archbishop José Gomez presided at the Closing School Mass during his first formal visit to the Mission Hills campus.

Speaking to the 1,600 students assembled in the gymnasium from a center stage decorated with flowers in the school’s colors of cardinal and gold, Archbishop Gomez said at the start of his homily that to have a Mass “in this setting is just very special, and I think it’s a beautiful way to celebrate this school year that is coming to an end.”

After eliciting applause when he congratulated the graduating seniors about to “set out on a great adventure,” he said that the Mass was an opportunity to “give thanks to God, parents, teachers and everyone who makes the gift of your Catholic education possible.” He pointed out that the readings of the day’s Mass were valuable in reflecting on the purpose of a Catholic education and what it means to be a missionary disciple.

“Basically, God wants us to be doing what we heard St. Paul was doing in today’s first reading” (Acts 17:15, 22 to 18:1) when he witnessed to the Greek philosophers of Athens.

“St. Paul wants them to know one thing,” noted the archbishop. “He wants them to know that God is real! He wants them to know that God is alive and at work in our world. And he wants them to know that Jesus Christ in the One who can show us the way to God and the way to salvation.”

Getting to know Jesus better, he continued, can come from studying the saints, including the recently-canonized John Paul II, who made a papal visit to the San Fernando Mission in 1987 and lunched with American bishops in what is now Alemany’s Alumni Hall.

“Can you believe that?” asked the archbishop. “A real saint here where you are. I think we should ask St. John Paul II [to pray] for each one of you and especially for your finals next week.”

Archbishop Gomez also highlighted Pope Francis as a great example of how to have real happiness from living our faith in total trust in Jesus, citing the pope’s recent embrace of a disfigured man during a public audience at the Vatican.

“This is exactly how God wants us to live — like Jesus, with mercy and love and compassion,” said the archbishop. “Every day, we have many chances to show people the love of God — through our little acts of mercy and kindness.”

During the petitions, prayers were offered for Pope Francis, Archbishop Gomez, church/world leaders and victims of tragedy, such as the UC Santa Barbara students who were recently murdered in Isla Vista. Prayers were also made for the graduating class of 2014 and two freshmen, Daniel Ritcheson and Eduardo Rodriguez, who received their first Holy Communion during the Mass.

Following Communion, Father Norm Supancheck, school chaplain who concelebrated the Mass with the archbishop, called members of the 2014-15 Christian Leadership Class to come forward and be seated in the empty chairs left by this year’s outgoing CL Class.

“I felt honored that the archbishop came to our Mass and I’ll remember how he said ‘God is real’” said senior Marisa Esquivel.

“I feel very honored to see and hear the archbishop, because I know not a lot of students get to see an archbishop in their lifetime,” said junior Sylvester Robinson.

“I liked when he spoke about Pope Francis and it was interesting how he said how a sainted pope was here on our grounds in 1987,” said Jewish sophomore Daniel Belmes.

“I think this was a great occasion,” Father Supancheck told The Tidings at a post-liturgy luncheon in Alumni Hall attended by the archbishop, faculty, administrators, the two first communicants and members of their families. “I think that the archbishop’s homily [stressing] that we need Jesus in our life to guide us and to lead us was very well put, very important for us.

 “I think it was a great connection for our students for their community here at Alemany to be then connected to the larger community of the archdiocese through the visible presence of the archbishop,” said Donald Levan, campus ministry center director and religion department chair. “I think that his call to be people of prayer in all that they do throughout life was something that really sunk in. It was great to have him here.”