Flashing lights, throbbing bass, wild cheers — the only thing differentiating the crowd gathered at UCLA campus from a typical rock concert were the distinctly Christian lyrics of the band WAL.
“Tonight anything is possible. Tonight anyone can be transformed,” the lead singers, Matthew and Michael Paul Leon, said to the young high school students from across the Greater Los Angeles area, who had come to participate in the second annual City of Saints event presented by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The weekend event, hosted by Archbishop José H. Gomez and held Aug. 5 to Aug.7 at the UCLA Conference Center, was an opportunity for teens to encounter Christ through taking part in praise and worship, listening to renowned speakers and attending Mass. The Sacrament of Reconciliation was also available to the students throughout the event.
While the music drew loud cheers from the young people, the witness of Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Río drew deafening applause. Government officials arrested the 14-year-old youth during the Cristero War in 1928. After torturing Blessed José in the hopes of getting him to renounce his Catholic faith, officials had him killed. Blessed José’s last words were, “Viva Cristo Rey.”
Steve Allgeyer, vice president of ministry advancement for Life Teen Inc., stressed in his talk that Christians find belonging through baptism — even though Christians in today’s secular culture may feel out of place.
“I don’t care where you are in your life. Jesus Christ wants you to know that you belong,” Allgeyer said.
Allgeyer’s words resonated with Destiny Murillo, 17, a rising senior at Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto High School in Los Angeles. Murillo is on the school’s campus ministry team and is the only practicing Catholic in her family.
Trying to live her faith can be challenging, she explained. “Sometimes going to Mass is a hassle,” since no one else in her family goes. But, she added, “It’s harder, but it’s OK.” She said she decided to come to City of Saints as a way to grow closer to God and enrich her faith.
In addition, Murillo said she found the talk on Blessed José especially motivating. “Even though he suffered, he continued and stayed strong in his faith and he didn’t give up.”
Fellow 17-year-old classmate Erika Arias, who is also a rising senior at Bishop Conaty, said she was inspired by Blessed José’s story. “I was overwhelmed with joy, because — especially in our generation — it’s really difficult to stand up for your faith.”
She added, “No one asked him to do that, and when you are young, you kind of just do what you’re told — you’re [still] learning how to think for yourself.”