When Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Andrew Small, New York-based national director of Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, asked who was a missionary, about 4,000 Catholic elementary students raised their hands.

Clearly, the children gathered for the annual Holy Childhood Association Mass Oct. 19 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels understood the cause they had been not just studying but supporting through a variety of fundraising and awareness activities.

Archbishop José Gomez presided (for the first time) at the largest Mass celebrated for children nationwide (and probably worldwide), and concelebrants included Msgr. Terrance Fleming, director of the archdiocesan Mission Office and Msgr. Sabato Pilato, archdiocesan superintendent of high schools. The Mass also included music from the youth choir of inner-city Holy Name of Jesus Church, St. Genevieve Parish’s Filipino cherubim choir dancers and a homily by Father Ken Deasy, HCA consultant for the L.A. Archdiocese.

 “I loved it!” exclaimed Father Small, who earlier walked with more than 100 students, teachers, staff, parents and the principal of Our Lady of Loretto School, an inner-city K-8 school about two miles away from the Cathedral. 

 “They’ve told me we’ll see the Cathedral from far away while we walk, and that’s a good metaphor indicating we have to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,” Father Small told The Tidings minutes before starting the “pilgrimage,” as he called it. The Liverpool (England) native viewed the event as a way to help participants “rediscover” the meaning of being a missionary.

“We have everything here,” he said, “pilgrimage, Eucharist, Agape love, music and dancing.” 

Father Deasy began his homily by defining love.

“Love is a gift,” he told the young assembly. “You can’t earn it, you can’t buy it. When you feel love, that is God. When you can give love, you’re a sacrament.”

Recounting the story of a boy who was not able to lift a big rock because he refused to ask for help from his father, he urged the children to always seek God for help and thanked them for been a “tremendous help to others.”

‘It’s about social justice’

The annual Mass offers an opportunity to schools to donate funds in support of less fortunate children in other parts of the world, honoring HCA’s motto, “Children Helping Children.” 

Several weeks prior to last week’s Mass, Father Deasy visited St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School in Lomita as they kicked off fundraising efforts for children in war/famine-stricken Somalia, the country selected by the National Pontifical Office to receive HCA’s 2011-2012 donations.

The archdiocese ranked No. 2 nationally last year with contributions of $497,000 to HCA, used for children missions in poor countries, including Haiti, where a church and a pre-school for deaf orphans were built in collaboration with a local women religious community, replacing buildings lost during the 2010 earthquake. A farm where the orphans can raise their own animals and grow their own food was also purchased. 

 “These children can’t hear, but they have music in their hearts and respond in their own way doing different noises to the love you give them,” Father Deasy told St. Margaret Mary students.

Showing the students several videos of the work done in Haiti and Bangkok, Father Deasy explained how in those countries many children do not have the fortune to go to school, do not enjoy public services such as running water or electricity and instead many of them suffer from HIV/AIDS or are trafficked to perform illegal work.

 “Believe in the power of prayer,” he continued, “pray and think how good it feels to help people live. When you give, you give life.”

This fall, participating elementary schools in the archdiocese have begun raising funds for children in Somalia.

“This is about social justice and giving back to the community,” said Michelle Sarmiento, principal of Our Lady of Loretto School, during the Oct. 19 walk to the Mass at the Cathedral.

Students at St. Eugene, an inner-city school with a large African-American population, recognized the significance of their efforts.

 “People in Haiti don’t have what we have and don’t really need, like iPods, cell phones or laptops,” said Jordan Efron and Victor Manning, St. Eugene seventh- and sixth-graders. “They are thinking about how to get a roof, shoes, water. They need everything.”

After the HCA Mass, Father Small mingled at the Cathedral’s plaza with thousands of children getting ready to dance to the tune of a D.J. after enjoying lunch. 

“It’s a celebration they look forward to every beginning of the school year,” Holy Trinity eighth grade teacher Jairo Salazar told The Tidings. “It’s just the beginning of a year-round of fundraisers to help the world community.”

For more information about the Holy Childhood Association, call (213) 637-7229, email [email protected] or visit www.hcakids.org or www.onefamilyinmission.org/hca.html.

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