In a darkened St. Mel Church last Friday evening, all eyes were on the teen lector at the ambo as an overhead screen showed an illustration of Christ’s passion during the parish’s annual Teen Stations of the Cross.After the reading, the screen image switched to the young musicians in St. Mel’s choir loft, talented instrumentalists and singers, playing music selected specifically for each Station by Bob McCulloch, confirmation team member who has helped produce the well-attended Teen Stations for the last 19 years at the Woodland Hills parish. 

Msgr. Helmut Hefner, pastor, moved around the church underneath the stained glass windows representing the Stations. After he announced each Station, and the congregation genuflected in their pews while reciting the traditional words, “Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world,” the lectors gave their dramatic reading of the text, taken from Paul Claudel’s 1911 libretto from Marcel Dupre’s organ composition “Le Chemin de la Croix” (The Way of the Cross.) 

McCulloch was introduced to this work by a monk-organist, now deceased, who performed the emotive piece years ago at the parish. “I have updated this turn-of-the-century text as best I could, [especially] to keep the poetry,” said McCulloch. “There’s not many words but the words are jam-packed and they’re powerful.”

He practices with the teen lectors, telling them to speak slowly, with emotion, and to “become” their Station so that each reader gives the impression of being a witness to the long-ago Passion. “To get teenagers to come out of themselves and push a reading like this is always the challenge each year, and every year they do a very good job,” said McCulloch.

Just as the lectors practice for dramatic effect, the parish teen musicians also practice their pieces well in advance. This year, violinist-brothers Jared and Seth Daly started practicing in the summer for their duet of the theme from “Schindler’s List” by John Willliams. 

Thirteen-year-old pianist Emily Rahhal practiced long hours for her performance of a Beethoven piano sonata following the lector’s dramatic reading for Station 5 (Simon Helps Jesus to Carry His Cross). Cal State Northridge music graduate student Jaclyn Howerton lent her expertise on the oboe, playing solos accompanied by organist/pianist Francesco Alleruzzo.

Leslie Fernando, 16, a student at Louisville High School, has participated as a lector in the Teen Stations for three years, since her freshman year as a confirmation student and now as a peer teen leader. 

“I do it because it’s a great way to get involved in ministry and become more pro-active,” said Fernando. It’s helped me grow in my faith because when you participate in a church activity, you’re able to become more involved and get a deeper insight into what you’re doing.”

John Anderson, 20, a student at UC Davis, returned during his spring break to be a lector. “I love doing the Stations,” said Anderson. “It’s just a great way to re-live what happened so many years ago and to really celebrate what Lent is all about.” 

Crespi High School student Dorian Mendoza-Farrokhi, 16, has participated as a lector for two years. “It’s a very wonderful celebration, very well-prepared,” he said. “It’s made my faith more visual. I could see [the Station] more in my mind; I could feel it. It’s deeper inside me.”

“It has helped me get closer to God,” added Julia Gies, 16, a student at El Camino High School, who returned this year to read. “It helps to get in touch with the Stations and remember how bad Jesus had it.”

Eric Jensen, 16, a Calabasas High School student, has read for two years. “I really enjoyed it last year because it’s not your average Mass experience,” he said. “There’s a lot more feeling that goes into the readings. It’s definitely made my faith stronger and I’ve learned so much more about Jesus’ death and how he died for our sins.”

Samantha Labrecque, 16, an Oak Park High School student and third-year teen lector, loves reading the Stations. “They’re so powerful and impactful,” she said. “It’s definitely given me a totally deeper insight into the Stations of the Cross, to what really happened to Jesus. It’s very powerful talking about his journey.” 

Dianna Rahhal, 45, soloist and mother of pianist/choir member Emily, 13, said she was deeply moved when she participated last year when her older son was a first-year confirmation student. 

“I participate because it is an incredibly beautiful service and it really reaches out to all age groups,” said Rahhal. “I think the music itself adds such another dimension and story to the Stations --- a story that I’ve never heard told that way through the music --- and it draws me so much closer to God, especially hearing my daughter play such beautiful music so spiritually and so beautifully.”

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