More than 8,000 Catholic middle school and high school students rallied for “life” at USC’s Galen Center during LIFEsoCal’s fourth annual Christian Service 4LIFE. Youths from across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles attended the half-day field trip designed to inspire students to respect all life, from conception to natural death, and to be active in Christian service. This year’s event — titled “The Path to Sainthood” — featured the life and works of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Students streamed into the Galen Center, where they were met with live entertainment by youth minister and dynamic entertainer Josh Melendrez. The crowd did a “morning warm-up” by dancing to Christian hip-hop.
“Our hope is that by joining together thousands of archdiocesan students from schools as far away at Santa Maria and San Dimas, the energy for our shared commitment to life will multiply exponentially,” said Carol Golbranson, executive director of LIFEsoCal, a nonprofit organization.
The Christian Service 4LIFE Rally shows young people that they are not alone in their faith. Students at the rally may recognize each other from church or sports and realize it’s “cool” to practice their faith.
“LIFEsoCal is run by a large group of volunteers. They wanted a young, fun group that is pro-life, who would be energetic about the cause. We are the next generation,” said Molly Hagan, who is the president of the junior advisory board for LIFEsoCal.
Brittney Sharaun, a former contestant on America’s Top Model, kicked off the event. She welcomed the students and thanked the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
“I’ve always been passionate about the pro-life movement. It’s huge for kids to have role models who have morals,” said Sharaun.
Sharaun announced the Damien High School drumline and gave center stage to Auxiliary Bishop Joseph V. Brennan, who sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem.
Patrick Coffin, who is the host of “Catholic Answers Live” and “The Patrick Coffin Show,” emceed the event. He told the lively crowd that “the main event is from the God of the universe.” He also told the students that priests were available for confession throughout the day.
Coffin also ran the “Game of LIFE: Saints Edition,” a high-energy “game show” that featured four teams representing different schools in the archdiocese. Loyola High School won by knowing the most saints.
Angela Iturrioz, LifesoCal volunteer and a junior at St. Monica Academy in Montrose, interviewed Carmelite Sister Maria Goretti onstage regarding saint-to-be Venerable Mother Luisita. Sister Goretti told the audience, “Be what you are supposed to be — a saint — that is what Mother Luisita would tweet today if she were alive.”
Following the interview, a shadow dance was performed depicting the life of Christ through the eyes of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“I think the shadow play was an excellent portrayal of the beauty of life. There was no dialogue and no faces; in a way, anyone’s story could be portrayed that way,” said David Landa, who is the director of pastoral life at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Pasadena, and who served as a chaperone for the school’s eighth grade students.
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, Bishop Gordon Bennett, S.J., Bishop Robert Barron, Bishop David O’Connell and Bishop Brennan participated in the benediction along with other archdiocesan priests. The Knights of Columbus led the procession and students from St. John Chrysostom were altar servers.
During benediction, Archbishop Gomez said, “The kingdom of God grows in us like a tiny seed.”
Bishop Barron gave the wrap-up talk and a musical send-off accompanied by the St. Francis High School band. Bishop Barron urged each student to “be a rebel.”
“Do not settle for mediocrity. Find out what God is asking you to do and then do it,” he said.
At the conclusion of the event, students had the opportunity to peruse 28 “action” booths designed to educate students about Christian service opportunities in their communities.
High school juniors and seniors were invited to stay for a complimentary lunch and informal roundtable discussion titled “How to Stay Catholic in College” with LMU Professor Chris Kaczor, Aurora Griffin (Harvard grad, author of “How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard”), Joseph Bustamante (USC sophomore) and Patrick Coffin.
“How great is it that so many students were lined up to go to confession, and so many bishops and priests came early and stayed late to share God’s mercy with them? We are truly blessed in Los Angeles to have such a great, diverse group of Catholics, joined together by our common belief that life is for everyone!” said Golbranson.