The memories of Valentino Marcos Alvero bring a wide, warm smile to the face of Father Joseph Magdaong.

“A very happy person, always with jokes to share, just a fun guy to be with and have a meal with,” said Magdaong, standing on the steps outside St. Stephen Martyr Church in Monterey Park and speaking about Alvero, a fellow Filipino-American and parishioner.

“Thank you God for giving me a chance to be with Val,” Magdaong added about his “kababayan,” or “countryman.”

The pastor welcomed Archbishop José H. Gomez, regional Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell, and more than 100 people the evening of Friday, Jan. 27, for a memorial Mass, a special visit for a community still looking for answers and seeking comfort from a Jan. 21 mass shooting at a dance club just two blocks from the church.

The 68-year-old Alvero was one of 11 killed, along with nine more injured. His name was listed with the other victims on a simple white sign placed next to a bouquet of flowers near the altar.

In addition to Alvero, the shooting victims were identified as: Xiujuan Yu, 57; Hongying Jian, 62; Lilan Li, 63; Mymy Nhan, 65; Muoi Dai Ung, 67; Diana Man Ling Tom, 70; Wen-Tau Yu, 64; Ming Wei Ma, 72; Yu-Lun Kao, 72; and Chia Ling Yau, 76.

Monterey Park

LA Catholics gathered at St. Stephen Martyr Church to mourn the victims of the Jan. 21 mass shooting in Monterey Park. (Victor Alemán)

Archbishop Gomez began the service by reading a message from Pope Francis expressing his condolences to those affected by the shooting. He finished it with a message of his own, delivered in both English and Spanish:

“We want to be close to you in this challenging time,” said the archbishop. “It is a tragedy that has affected all of us, especially the families of the victims as well as the parish and the community. But we are together. You have our prayers and somehow God is going to bring blessings to this difficult situation.”

In his homily, Magdaong pointed to the importance of cherishing memories of those killed as a necessary part of coping with the tragedy, even singing lyrics during his homily to the 1974 popular song, “The Way We Were,” made famous by Barbra Streisand.

The priest was also part of a multifaith outdoor candlelight vigil earlier that week on Monday, Jan. 23. He said he felt attendance at St. Stephen Martyr that last Sunday was lighter than usual because of parishioners’ uneasiness over what occurred just hours earlier.

But to celebrate this memorial Mass for the victims, Magdaong said, was important because “it is our obligation and our duty to always pray especially in this time of a mass shooting for those killed and injured. We pray for healing because we know prayer is powerful.”

Prayer, he said, “helps us to stay calm and believe, a purpose to respond with peace and love instead of hate and violence.”

As the memorial Mass concluded, some gravitated to two other nearby memorial sites that have been growing since the shooting took place: outside the entrance of the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, and in front of the Monterey Park City Hall.

St. Stephen Martyr is considered a focal point for the Filipino, Indonesian, and Hispanic communities in Monterey Park, a city of about 60,000 residents east of downtown Los Angeles where some 65% of the population are of Asian descent. The parish once had a Chinese Catholic pastoral ministry and a Sunday Mass in Mandarin in the early 1980s, but that was eventually transferred to nearby St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Since 2001, the parish has celebrated regular Masses in Indonesian in addition to English and Spanish.

Alvero was born in the metro-Manila area and settled in Monterey Park in the 1980s. He worked in the maintenance department at a local hotel and frequented the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, just a three-minute walk on Garvey Street from the church, where his funeral Mass will be held Feb. 3. His family said they did not want him to be remembered just as another name in a headline about another mass shooting.

Archbishop José H. Gomez greets a family at St. Stephen Martyr Church in Monterey Park after a Jan. 27, 2023 memorial Mass. (Victor Aleman)

In a statement released the day after his death, the family described him as “a loving father, a dedicated son and brother, a grandfather who loved his three granddaughters fiercely, an uncle who loved his nieces and nephews like his own.”

“He loved people and hearing about their lives and in return, he shared his own stories with so much gusto and enthusiasm that you couldn’t help but listen and laugh along with him. He loved ballroom dancing, he loved his community and he was the life of the party. … We will all miss him for the rest of our days on this earth. We hope that he danced to his heart’s content until the very end and hope that he is now dancing in heaven.”

They said he had hoped to retire soon and return to his native Philippines.

The statement also noted that it was “a great travesty” that he did not receive his last rites as “a devout Catholic.” The family asked that “all priests and Catholics pray for him by name, Valentino Marcos Alvero,” and offer Masses and rosaries for the repose of his soul.

“Pray for Valentino by name, and for all the souls of all victims of mass shootings and for an end to the mass shootings in our nation and the world. He was a faithful servant of God, and we know that he would want the world to lift his family in prayer more than anything.”

The Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California group started a GoFundMe page to raise $1 million for a victims’ fund.  

Meanwhile, Alverno’s daughter, Kristenne Reidy of Pasadena, also launched a crowdfunding page seeking to raise $50,000 to honor her father’s memory “the way he would want, with a big funeral Mass and party.”

With more than 250 donations as of Friday, one of the donors identified as Edwin Estrada added a comment: “We worked and were friends for 35 years. I’m going to miss his kindness and ability to know how to listen, to teach and help. I will never forget it. Friend, brother of the soul.”