As 6,500 young people made their way into the Anaheim Convention Center to kick off the Youth Day portion of the 68th Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, several attendees made up a sea of colored T-shirts to celebrate their attendance at the event. Some red, some yellow. Others had blue or purple.

But while their shirts differed, what they all had in common was a unity, a shared purpose of faith where they were free to feel welcome, supported, and unified.

That feeling of an open-armed reception — to be undeterred in a world that may shame, mock, or criticize their Catholic faith — was something that many guest speakers and leaders tried to emphasize with those in attendance.

For Michael Marchand, who spoke at a workshop titled “Awkward: When Following God Gets Uncomfortable,” he underscored the importance of young people feeling good about themselves and their faith in the face of a culture of likes, followers and validation.

“The No. 1 thing that we hear from young people — people your age, your generation — is that they struggle with feeling seen, loved and wanted,” Marchand said. “If you hear nothing else from what we shared today, hear me say: You are incredibly loved.”

Gabriel Canonoy, 20, was a chaperone for confirmation students from St. Christopher Church in Moreno Valley — part of the Diocese of San Bernardino — and shared in the struggles young people are going through.

“The struggle that teenagers are facing right now is accepting their faith,” he said. “Because some are either saying it’s not cool to be this, or there’s media or pop culture where anti-religion is kind of prevalent.

“[Youth Day] is showing there are many people that are actually willing to, but sometimes they need an incentive or they need to be in a community that allows them to express themselves fully.”

Chris Padgett spoke to young people about allowing God to help them in troubled times.

“What’s the solution? You have to let Jesus into these wounds,” he said. “The scary thing about this is we’re ashamed.

“Jesus is not afraid of your mess. There’s nothing you can do that will make him stop loving you.”

Young people and chaperones pose while at the Youth Day portion of the 68th Los Angeles Religious Education Conference in Anaheim on Feb. 16. (Archdiocese of Los Angeles)

Those words of encouragement seemed to resonate with many of the youth in attendance.

Hannah Artehea, 16, was one of those who attended Marchand’s workshop.

“God created you to be your own person and to not care about what anyone else thinks,” she said. “That caught my attention a lot.”

Brian Barragan, 16, said he’s often ridiculed by his friends for praying before meals, but was happy to be surrounded by like-minded young people like himself.

“Sometimes as a high-schooler, you feel like as a follower of Christ in this Catholic community, you can feel alone,” he said. “Most kids don’t care about God or religion. But coming here, you see thousands of kids that believe in the same stuff that you believe in and it inspires you to continue your faith.”

Prior to helping celebrate the Youth Day’s ending Mass, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Matthew Elshoff was seen roaming the hall, speaking with young people, handing out blessings and generally soaking up the scene.

“I’ve been just walking around, just watching them interact, seeing their enthusiasm, looking at the smiles on their faces,” Elshoff said. “There’s so many negative things, whether it’s about youth or just about the world. To be in a place that’s filled with light, it just warms my heart.”

Elshoff was especially encouraged by the youth turnout.

“It deepens their enthusiasm and their desire to follow Jesus,” he said. “And they can do it in a way that they don’t have to be apologetic or hold back. But rather literally take it all in and give themselves to what they believe and what they love.”

Themed “Your Path Awaits,” this year’s Youth Day was filled with unique ways to engage the high-school-aged attendees, whether it was illusion from magician and keynote speaker Giancarlo Bernini, video games with author Bobby Angel, or caring for the environment with guest speaker Kayla Jacobs.

At Angel’s session, titled “Gaming, God, & the Heroic Life,” he encouraged gamers to embrace their quest for Jesus as much as their favorite video game.

“You have in your heart a desire that nothing on this finite planet will satisfy,” Angel said. “That’s not an accident. Video game developers know this more than anything.

“All the areas of your life, God can redeem. Your athletics, your hobbies, your interests, even video games.”

Guest speaker Mike Patin used all of his high energy to wake students up from a post-lunch lull with interactive activities that got the youth thinking about their faith.

“To the person on your left, you’re gonna answer one question,” Patin yelled to the audience. “Give me one word for how you feel at this point of Youth Day.”

“Sleepy,” one participant said. “Energized,” said another.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez presided over the day-end Mass at the Youth Day portion of the 68th Los Angeles Religious Education Conference in Anaheim on Feb. 16. (Archdiocese of Los Angeles)

By the time Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, Diocese of San Bernardino Bishop Alberto Rojas, and LA’s auxiliary bishops presided over the ending Mass — taking place in the convention arena decorated with colors, angels and featuring youth singers and musicians — the mood was downright festive.

Toward the end of holy Communion being distributed, an impromptu light display broke out, with the crowd holding up their cell phone’s lights in response to the emotional song playing. Archbishop Gomez and several of the other concelebrating bishops and priests joined in.

“We have a lot of choices nowadays for how we can live,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Open up social media and you’re going to find a lot of people telling you what makes them happy and trying to influence you to follow their way of thinking and living.

“God is telling you the truth. About who he is. About who you are. And about what will truly make you happy in life.”