Sister Maria Goretti’s assigned ministry is among the homeless, but every fourth Friday she helps young adults at Mission San Gabriel to satisfy a very different hunger for eucharistic adoration.

With Mass limited or inaccessible for months on end, “we had a lot of young people saying, ‘I wish there was a place I could go for adoration and confession,” said the Franciscan Sister of the Poor of Jesus Christ.

She teamed up with Father Matthew Wheeler, associate pastor of St. Anthony Church in San Gabriel and vocations director for the San Gabriel pastoral region. With support from Jennifer Havey, regional coordinator of spiritual renewal, they launched “Sanctitas,” for young adults to engage in adoration, reflection, and confession at 7 p.m. on fourth Fridays inside the parish church next door to the historic mission. 

The music is contemporary, the spiritual practices timeless.

There is exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, some music, some silence and a priest offers a short meditation. After more silence, there is an examination of conscience and an opportunity for confession. Singing is limited due to COVID-19 — and precautions such as masking, social distancing, and signing in for contact tracing are rigorously observed.

Although Father Matt works in vocations, Sanctitas is not about considering holy orders or consecrated life.

“Sanctitas came about to help people who are trying to discern God’s will in a general way, to help them in their relationship with Christ and to try to get them connected with other young people who are Christ-centered as well,” he said.

Attendance has averaged about 70 — and as high as 100. At least two other parishes offer a similar ministry on other Fridays.

Four priests are available for confessions. They stay busy, often with people who haven’t been to confession for years.

“They are all good confessions. God is at work, bringing people back,” Father Matt said.

One of the regulars at Sanctitas is Marisol Valencia, 27, a medical assistant in San Gabriel.

“Sanctitas has been like a breath of fresh air. It’s been so rough at the clinic, just seeing so many people struggling with the pandemic, with missing their family members, with depression and anxiety, so Sanctitas has really been a blessing for me,” she said.

She had always attended Mass, but began to grow deeper in faith in the year before the pandemic, going to daily Mass and joining Sister Maria Goretti in outreach to the homeless. The closing of churches was a shock that made her appreciate the Eucharist even more. She went to adoration at a church that offered it through a window.

While adoration had once felt awkward, she said, it has become awesome.

“A friend of mine told me, ‘You know, parents who have a new baby sometimes just stare at that baby. They aren’t saying anything, but do you think they are talking to each other?’ Their hearts are speaking to each other and that is what you do when you are in front of the Eucharist,” she said.

“Sanctitas is a place for a soul to find healing. A place for our hearts to find rest. But more importantly, it’s a place to adore Jesus, to console his wounded heart, to love him and to trust that he is all we need. Nothing else, only him.”