Walking around the stage at the StubHub Center’s tennis stadium in Carson Oct. 9, Mexican singer, actor and keynote speaker Eduardo Verastegui was addressing more than 6,000 Catholic school junior high and high school students. And he was telling the screaming girls and clapping boys that being a successful 20-something actor in telenovelas on TV wasn’t all that great. In fact, during this fast-paced hedonistic part of his life, “I was lost, I was unhappy,” he confided. After taking voice lessons to improve his English pronunciation from a committed Catholic coach, however, he resolved to change his destructive lifestyle. He went to Mass daily, read the Bible, said the Rosary, went to Confession and, most of all, simply prayed. And he turned down juicy — but demeaning — roles in the Mexican soap operas for a year. Verastegui joined with director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde and another partner to form Metanoia (the Greek word for repentance) Films now based in Beverly Hills. They were determined to make movies with a positive image of Latinos, instead of them always being portrayed as bandits, drug dealers, traffickers and womanizers. Their first effort was the big hit “Bella,” the story of how an unborn child helps two people wind up falling in love. Released in 2006, the movie set in New York City received the “People’s Choice Award” at that year’s Toronto International Film Festival among other accolades. In researching his starring role for the movie, Verastegui went to an abortion clinic with pencil and paper in hand. There he met a young woman who was going to have the medical procedure. He listened to her story, showed her a video and told her she was not “alone” if she decided to have her baby. She broke down in tears, changing her mind. Months later she had her baby and the proud parents asked the actor if they could name the child Eduardo. “That changed my life forever,” Verastegui acknowledged on stage, one hand holding the microphone, the other stuffed in the pocket of his dark suit. “I never thought that me going to the clinic to study for my movie, I was going to be used as an instrument by God to save the life of a baby,” he recalled. “And, of course, after that I said, ‘God, please use me as an instrument. I want to end this horrible crime in the world, and I’m going to do it through the media. Please help me and guide me.” After “Bella” was released to critical and popular acclaim, the film’s star and its director opened a pro-life crisis pregnancy clinic, Manto de Guadalupe, for poor Latina women near Lafayette Park in Los Angeles. “Since the movie came out in 2006 ‘til today, I have been told more than 1,000 babies have been saved by the grace of God through “Bella,” he reported. “These are the things that we know of. God only knows how many more. I hope thousands and thousands more. “But even if it would have been only one, it would have been worth it. Because life is not an accident. Life is sacred, a gift from God. And we have to defend it from conception to natural death — all of us — practicing the Golden Rule: treat others the same way you like to be treated.” ‘Do something positive for life’ Christian Service 4Life, presented by Lifesocal and the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, was a cornerstone of this year’s national Respect Life Week. The half-day happening was designed for junior high and high school students to inspire them to “do something positive for life.” They played life-awareness games. And they watched videos not only about abortion, but other much less publicized life issues like respecting the elderly, eliminating poverty, caring for the sick, and helping the disabled and disadvantaged.

“We can listen to God and say ‘Yes’ to him, and become the new missionaries of the 21st century.” — Archbishop Gomez

“Our hope is that these students leave the event motivated to take action at their schools and in their communities to stand up for life from conception to natural death,” said Carol Golbranson, director of sponsoring LIFEsocal. “This amazing event is another successful step on the road to changing the culture.” The morning combination pep rally and teaching moment also featured talks by Brittney Sharaun, founder of the Skid Row homeless ministry “Burgers & Bibles,” Rev. Walter Hoye II, who started Issues 4 Life and the California Civil Rights Foundation, Maria Cahill, Miss Delaware in 2011 and Holy Cross Father Bill Miscamble, a teacher, scholar and author at the University of Notre Dame. But the pep rally changed to a sacred liturgy when Archbishop José Gomez processed into the stadium cradling a gold monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament, while a girls’ choir sang the traditional Latin hymn “O Salutaris Hostia.” At the beginning of Benediction, he incensed the makeshift altar and knelt before it in silent prayer. He then led the students in praying the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary” and “Glory Be.” “So today as we are here in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, let us offer our prayers that we can listen to God and say ‘Yes” to him, and become the new missionaries of the 21st century,” the archbishop said during his brief remarks. “We need to defend the innocent — from conception to life and to natural death. “We need to reach out to everyone with the helping hand of Jesus Christ — from the woman who is having a child, to the handicapped and aged. We need to be the source of mercy and understanding, welcoming to everyone. What this means is that God is calling each one of you, each one of us, to be saints.” Human life cheapened Father Miscamble declared that American culture fosters a “blanket denial” over what is really happening to the weakest and most defenseless in the United States today. But the Holy Cross priest pointed out that he sensed this wasn’t the case with the thousands of Catholic school students filling the stadium today. The scholar said their eyes see clearly what is going on around them: “You know well that there has been a cheapening in the value of human life in our time. From the millions of abortions that occur, to legalized assisted suicide, to the mistreatment of those on the margins.” But Father Miscamble stressed it’s one thing to gain knowledge about a problem and a whole bigger challenge to act on that knowledge. He explained this was not doing something “bad,” but a failure to do something “good.” “We know where the challenges are and we know we can’t do everything,” he said. “But each of us, each person here, knows that you can do something. And we must. The basic question is in the end not simply what you can do, but rather whether you are worthy to be good and courageous people who refuse to be indifferent bystanders.” Burgers & Bibles After benediction, individuals heading four service projects spoke on their grass-roots work. Former America’s Next Top Model Brittney Sharaun talked about Burgers & Bibles, which serves the “body and soul” of people on L.A.’s skid row. Casey Tesauro, west coast regional coordinator, reported on Students for Life of America. George McGraw and Jennifer Cadena did the same about Dig Deep Waters. And Carmelite Sister Marie Estelle Klein, director of staff development at St Teresita Home, described what a ministry to the elderly is like. In her all-white flowing nursing habit, Sister Klein was almost a blur on stage, darting from one side to the other. She told The Tidings the former hospital in Duarte now offers a continuum of care for the elderly, from nursing to assisted living. The women religious was deeply moved witnessing thousands of Catholic school adolescents openly displaying their approval for all these pro-life efforts. “I came a little late, and all the students were yelling as I was walking in. And as I heard everyone shouting for life, I started crying,” she confided. “Because there’s nothing more important than affirming and celebrating life and defending life in this culture. So to see and hear all these students open their hearts to the church, and to understanding that every life is beautiful, is really wonderful.” Paula Lopez, a freshman at Pomona Catholic High School, thought she was going to a small event. “Well, I learned about abortions and how many there were,” she reported. “So there’s a lot of unborn children who wish they could have the life that we do.” Shayla Adam, who came all the way from St. Joseph School in Oxnard, remarked, “I thought it was motivating and it brought up awareness about protecting all life. And I liked the Benediction. I think it’s really nice how all the private Catholic schools came to join this movement for pro-life.” An eighth-grade classmate of Shayla agreed. “I think it’s cool and inspiring,” Cassey Ebbcane said. “It was good to hear, like, Eduardo talking about his life and how he helped other people not have an abortion.” Pablo Burtos, an eighth-grader at St. Joseph in Long Beach, rode on a bus with some 50 other students to Carson. “It was very interesting, just hearing the people’s stories,” he said with a small smile. “I really liked the Burgers & Bible one. I’m just impressed about how much work [Brittney Sharaun] does to help people.” ‘Hungry for service’ For Nathaniel Rivera, a seventh-grader at St. Marianne School in Pico Rivera, it was simply a lot of fun. “But I also learned a lot of details about, like, what abortion can do to people, and how it can affect people’s lives.” And he could see himself being part of the next generation of pro-life missionaries Archbishop Gomez called for. Another seventh-grader from St. Marianne’s was charged up, too. “I really want to help the poor and the elderly, but I never had the courage to,” admitted Marco Chavez. “I think this will give me the courage to do those things.” Chris Falfameda has plied her education skills at the Pico Rivera parochial school for 33 years, which both she and her husband and their two children attended. This year she’s teaching science, religion and art to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, and chaperoned some of those students today. She used the word “terrific” to describe the Christian Service 4LIFE program, especially because it reinforced the archdiocese’s own Respect Life program that she just taught last week. “The kids really took in all that information and are hungry for service to do,” she said. “I’ve been taking them to a local convalescent home once a month for three years now and they love it. Because they build up a relationship with the residents. “And it’s great to see all these kids from different schools together supporting life issues. You know, it’s a reaffirmation of our faith and our faith beliefs. And that to me is important. Kids have to see it, not just hear it from me on a daily basis. But to see it in action with other schools and other guest speakers is very impressive.”

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