For 18-year-old Valerie Miranda, attending the annual Requiem Mass for the Unborn at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels --- and the Youth Rally for Life which precedes it --- offers her the opportunity to recharge her spiritual batteries.

Then, says the parishioner at All Souls Church, Alhambra, she can go back to her everyday life “to help reignite that same light in other people and hopefully save a life.”

“We live in a society where it’s the norm for everyone to say, ‘It’s O.K, you can just abort the baby and get rid of your problem.’ But we have to remember to stay true to our faith and keep coming back to the Church,” said Miranda, who attended the Jan. 18 events. It’s “definitely encouraging,” she added, to be around hundreds of other like-minded young people, because “that really makes you feel more reassured to keep spreading the word.”

Archbishop José Gomez and Auxiliary Bishops Gerald Wilkerson and Alexander Salazar were joined by hundreds of worshippers for the Mass, held near the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Over the last 41 years, about 55 million abortions have been performed in the United States.

“As disciples of Jesus, we cannot be indifferent or complacent to any human being who is in need,” said Bishop Wilkerson during his homily. As disciples, he continued, all must find their particular calling to help support the culture of life. Working towards legislation that may someday prohibit abortion is important, he said, but we also “need a change in mind and in heart within our people.”

To help change hearts, all must reach out to friends, family members and strangers in need through pro-life ministries, Project Rachel (which provides post-abortion counseling), and the people encountered in day-to-day lives, said Bishop Wilkerson.

“Pope Francis says we must walk with men and women [contemplating abortions] and seek to understand their pain and circumstances,” he said. “The whole world ought to know that we are a Church of life, but the whole world also ought to know that in a problem pregnancy we are their best friends, who will accompany them and be with them.”

The Mass featured the “Shantigarh Requiem for the Unborn,” original hymns and music composed by John Bonaduce, music director at Our Lady of Peace Church, North Hills, and concluded with the traditional ceremony of light, with churchgoers solemnly walking up to the front of the cathedral holding flaming candles, which are then placed in a circular pattern around the altar.

This year 220 candles were lit to represent the estimated total number of unborn lives lost due to elective abortions in one typical day across Los Angeles County.

Kim Reyes, a pro-life OB/GYN physician and natural family planning counselor, described the annual candle ceremony as both a beautiful and “sacred” experience.

“Walking up there with a candle is so powerful. I feel like I can carry the light for that child, and [this Mass] gives each child a value and a dignity because they are being remembered,” said Reyes, a parishioner at St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Burbank. “You can feel the presence of those spirits. I think they hear us; I think they feel our love.”

Following the Mass, the candles were taken outside and placed in the windows of the Cathedral Colonnade, where they were to remain on display for a week “as a tribute to these brief human lives, and as the shining witness of our commitment to life,” explained Father Alexei Smith, director of the archdiocesan office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Tricia Mora, who attends St. Cornelius, Long Beach, presented a touching personal testimony about her own first-hand experiences.

“A few years I was praying here just like you, wondering what I was being called to do as a Catholic Christian.” Through prayer she realized that she had to begin by healing “the errors and mistakes of my own life.” At the age of 17, she had made the regretful decision to have an abortion after becoming pregnant out of wedlock.

After much prayer she decided to join her parish’s pro-life ministry, where she learned to be “a bold and active voice for our unborn brothers and sisters.” She started out slowly, armed with only her rosary, and went to pray and be present at an abortion clinic in her community. As she moved forward in her ministry, she was suddenly faced with an unexpected development: her 23-year-old son and his girlfriend were facing an unplanned pregnancy and were considering an abortion.

“My heart sank, but God strengthened me to lovingly talk to both my son and his girlfriend, without judgment, and to share with them --- for the first time --- the story of my own abortion and the impact it had on life my and the loss I felt,” she recalled.

After two months of encouraging and praying with them, the couple “chose life for their baby.” And in November her grandchild Teddy was born.

“I encourage each of you here today to prayerfully consider what God might be calling you to do to share the Gospel of life,” she said. “My experience taught me that God never stops looking for me. As long as I open the door, He will give me the strength [and] courage to do His will. Together we can build a culture of life.”