The parking lot at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was filled to capacity almost two hours before the scheduled start of the June 8 Mass that would celebrate the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s numerous lay ecclesial movements — the first-ever such formal celebration.

“When I got here early to start preparing for the Mass, one whole section [of the Cathedral] was filled, it made me cry,” said Alicia Hernandez of the Office of the New Evangelization that organized the event. “People really wanted to be a part of this celebration.”

Indeed, the overwhelming response from members of the 40-plus groups who came from across the archdiocese — many in busses and in carpools — testified to their dedication and faith.

“This is the first time that we are thanking these groups for their service and ministry,” says Father Ed Benioff, director of the Office of the New Evangelization. “Archbishop Gomez is taking a page from the playbook of Pope Francis on ways to renew and revitalize the church. There are so many of these lay ecclesial groups working in and around our parishes, and many have been doing so for decades. Why reinvent the wheel? Let’s see how we can support and encourage them.”

Father Benioff explained that this celebration — held appropriately on “the birthday of our Catholic Church,” Pentecost Sunday, and planned now as an annual event — was a “kickoff” to his ministerial mandate that will reach out to the various apostolic movements and groups to learn about and promote them via an archdiocesan website and You Tube accounts.

“There are all kinds of groups out there, each with a different charism,” he said. “What we have seen here today is only a tip of the iceberg. This is very exciting.”

In his homily, Archbishop Gomez tied the message of the Holy Spirit’s descending on the apostles to today’s need for continual evangelization and involvement.

“The first Christians talked about their bodies as being temples of the Holy Spirit, which is so true and real today,” said Archbishop Gomez. “Let us ask the spirit to make us better apostles and to witness as Christians the message of salvation to people of our time.”

Certainly, there was joy and electricity filling the hearts of those in attendance — among them, Marylou Roberts, who came with fellow San Buenaventura Serra Club members. It is one local branch of Serra International which prays for and nurtures vocations.

Roberts was thrilled by the archbishop’s outreach. “He was so excited and you could tell that this was special for him,” said the parishioner of Mission San Buenaventura. “It really did feel like the Holy Spirit was descending on everyone.”

The charismatic lay community City of the Lord was represented by a contingency from the San Fernando Valley. Among its many activities, members reach out to their parishes — including St. John Eudes (Chatsworth), Our Lady of Grace (Encino) and Our Lady of Peace (North Hills) — to help with adult formation and catechesis.

Member Tim Dawson related what St. John Paul II called the “Catechism of the Holy Spirit” to Sunday’s celebration. “We saw unity today with the calling of the Holy Spirit to laity in these groups,” he said.

Many of the groups at the cathedral had cultural ties to Mexico, the Philippines and other countries; numerous banners, flags and t-shirts were in Spanish, Tagalog and other languages. The sunflower was the symbol on the banner for the Nueva Creacion de Dios group based out of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal in Montebello.

“We are like the sunflower looking up to the sun — to God — for our light and life,” said member Ofelia Neri about the organization that started in 2002 to support single, divorced, separated and widowed women through services and resources. The group just started a faith-based counseling service out of St. Rose of Lima Church in Maywood, and Neri said already the response was positive, with outreach expanding to include married women and even men.

“For us, it was very important to be here today at the Cathedral,” said Neri. “To be acknowledged by the archdiocese is wonderful and also to see how each of our groups are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. This was a great day.”