City of Saints made a lasting impression on more than 1,000 youth from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles when dynamic speakers, artists and religious leaders gathered with teenagers to learn and pray at the Catholic teen conference.
Archbishop José H. Gomez and the archdiocese’s Youth Ministry Division of the Office of Religious Education hosted the three-day retreat, which took place from Aug. 7 to Aug. 9 at UCLA.
The event’s success was evident in the teenagers’ enthusiastic response to the day’s activities of attending Mass, reciting the rosary, going to confession, listening to talks on the faith and participating in the praise and worship with the Catholic rock band WAL.
Christine Botello, 17, came to the retreat with her parish of St. Raymond Catholic Church in Downey. She said her favorite part of the retreat was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
“It’s a time for us to reflect on what we’ve done and then go into the retreat with an open heart,” said Botello. “And then we get touched by God and usually go to confession.”
Jeff Ferris, a volunteer at the retreat, said he noticed how many teenagers were going to confession, adding, “When Archbishop Gomez showed up to hear confessions, the lines got longer.”
Archbishop Gomez played a large role at the event. He gave the retreat welcome on Friday evening, celebrated Mass, prayed with the conference attendees, and had lunch and dinner with the teenagers and volunteers.
Botello calls the retreat a safe environment where like-minded teens can discuss religion.
“Most teens feel more comfortable here because we are all on the same journey together and we overcome everything as a community,” she said. “And then we just build from there.”
Friendships formed at these kinds of retreats last a long time, she adds, saying she keeps in touch with friends from all over the country. “We kind of keep each other in check with our faith.”
Teresa Tiffany, an event volunteer, said she was impressed with the teenagers’ reverence during adoration.
“Nearly everyone was on their knees, and we don’t have kneelers in there — you’re on the concrete floor.”
Tiffany was speaking outside the doors of the concert hall where the teenagers were waving cellphones, wearing glow sticks and singing along with WAL band members.
“I think it’s important that whether it’s a rapper or it’s rock music that they are able to express their enthusiasm and they are obviously able to with what we have here,” she said.
Archbishop Gomez said that many declared saints have come from Los Angeles but “it is up to us to continue to make our city and our world a city of saints.”
To become saints we must have faith, try to imitate Christ and love one another, he said during his homily Saturday night.
“We also hear about the food that we need for our journey: Jesus, who is the bread of life. And as we know we have him in the Eucharist.”
The archbishop said that when he was about 15 or 16, his father started going to daily Mass, which impressed him so much that he too started going to Mass daily — a decision he believes led him to become a priest.
“I have to share with you the whole truth,” he added. “The only way my dad let me drive his car is when I was going to Mass, but it really changed my life. I’m still working on it but really it makes a huge difference in my life.”
“You are the present and the future of the Church,” the archbishop said at the end of Mass. “We are together trying to be saints and to become the city of saints. And there is a lot of hope for the city of Los Angeles, and for that matter, for our country and for the whole world.”
He added that when he meets with Pope Francis during the U.S. papal visit in September, he’ll “be sure to tell him that the youth of the archdiocese are excited to become missionary disciples as [Pope Francis] wants us to do.”
The archbishop had one last question for the teenagers: “Should we do this next year?” The audience exploded in applause and shouts.
“Sounds like a yes. Alright, we’ll do it.”