Nearly 3,000 students from Catholic elementary and middle schools across the archdiocese gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels the morning of Oct. 14 for the 14th annual celebration of the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA) Mass, the largest eucharistic celebration for children in the country.

For Natalie Golan, a seventh-grader who attended the MCA Mass alongside more than 50 fellow students from Our Lady of Malibu School, the celebration was “a lot of fun,” but also served as an informative and eye-opening experience.

“I heard a lot about God and the Mass really made me think about all the other kids who aren’t as fortunate, and it made me want to help them,” she told The Tidings.

The archdiocesan Missionary Childhood Association, one of the Pontifical Mission Societies, helps raise awareness among local students about the needs of disadvantaged children and families around the world, and encourage student participation in diverse year-round fundraising efforts sponsored by the association. Funds are earmarked for essentials, such as food and educational supplies, and for critical needs as well.

Earlier this year, Catholic school and religious education students across the three-county Archdiocese of Los Angeles participated in “Join Hands for Nepal,” a post-earthquake relief fundraising campaign that raised over $30,000 in donations — an amount that was matched by a generous donor — to help the South Asian nation.

According to Lydia Gamboa, associate director of the archdiocesan Mission Office, the yearly Mass is intended to acknowledge and thank local youth for their fundraising support, and to motivate their missionary spirit. She described the Mass, and the celebratory lunch that followed in the cathedral plaza — which was adorned with colorful balloons, overflowing with students and teachers, and filled with lively music — as part of the local Missionary Childhood Association’s annual “youth appreciation day.”

“Our Catholic school kids do such a tremendous job throughout the whole year raising money to support MCA, which is [about] children helping children,” she explained. “[This celebration] is about giving back and telling them, ‘Thank you, we appreciate all you do,’… As Msgr. Terrance Fleming, [director of the Mission Office], explains … their baptismal rite as Catholics is to be missionaries, so this is what we’re trying to teach them, about the importance of helping others in need.”

In his homily, Msgr. Fleming extended a greeting from Archbishop José H. Gomez, who at the time was in Rome participating in the Synod on the Family.

“The meeting in Rome is about the family … and [around the world] families are struggling, but the one family that should not be struggling is our family of the Church of Jesus Christ — that’s why it’s so wonderful to have all of you here,” he said. “I am so proud of the family of the Missionary Childhood Association. When our brothers or sisters are hurting in a foreign country … we come together and we have fundraisers, we donate money, and we send it to the bishop of that country ...

“In a sense, that’s what a missionary does — shares what they have,” continued Msgr. Fleming. “And we all have that missionary spirit. … Jesus has taken such good care of us, and the way we thank him is by doing that for others.”

Near the close of Mass, three recipients of this year’s Msgr. Anthony Brouwers Memorial Scholarship essay contest (addressing the importance of missionary work) were recognized: Izaiah Esparza, St. Thomas More School, Alhambra ($1,500 for first place); Lesly Tellez, St. Benedict School, Montebello ($1,000 for second); and Aaron Montero, St. Benedict School, Montebello ($500 for third).

Esparza, an eighth grader, said he was “surprised and happy” to earn the top prize for his essay, which focused on how to be a missionary at home and in daily life.

“I think a missionary is someone [who] helps others out” in any way possible, explained Esparza, be it donating money to foundations or simply “being there” when someone needs a helping hand. “If I see someone in need, I want to help.”