“It was my word against his,” Aloni Bonilla said of the CHP officer who left her face bruised and swollen in 2012. The officer said she was resisting arrest, but she said that she was sitting in the hospital hallway waiting to take a blood test after being pulled over for a DUI.

He threatened to falsify the police report to say that she had confessed to drinking and driving, according to her testimony. When she countered that she hadn’t admitted to anything and would get a lawyer, he slammed her face against the wall.

The court determined the video footage of the event was inadmissible due to an 11-second gap that appeared to skip the events preceding the altercation. He walked away with a clean record and his department moved his patrol to a new region.

Although these painful experiences took place many years ago, Bonilla, 29, told Angelus News that the emotions from that night are quick to resurface whenever she hears about similar stories of abuse of power — stories like the ones that Archbishop José H. Gomez addressed during the homily at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on August 26.

What should have been a completely joyous occasion — the 3:30 p.m. Mass was a welcome celebration for the Pilgrim Cross and Marian icon that St. Pope John Paul II entrusted to the youths in 1984 and which will next travel to Panama for World Youth Day 2019 — took on a more serious tone as the archbishop of Los Angeles told the packed cathedral that he was working with his brother bishops in the U.S. to examine the recent sex abuse scandals.

The archbishop told the thousands of soon-to-be pilgrims to Panama that had gathered for the event, “But I wanted to tell all of you, once again, that I am committed and all of us — the bishops, the priests, the deacons, the lay faithful, the religious sisters and brothers — we are all committed to protecting our young people in all our parishes and schools and ministries.”

He acknowledged that throughout the world “there are young people who have been hurt by members of the Church.” But it was from the young people also that he asked for help to create proper reform in the Church. “We need your help, my brothers and sisters; we need the help of everyone in the Church.

“We have many needs in the Church for reform and renewal, but the renewal we need is spiritual. The foundation for every reform in the history of the Church is a return to Jesus Christ.”

These words from the archbishop resonated with Bonilla. She has come a long way since that night in 2012 and credits her reversion to her faith for helping her lead a clean life and helping her redirect her feelings of anger at the police officer to actions of strength and prayers of atonement on behalf of her attacker.

She will attend World Youth Day for a second time next year, this time as a group leader. She said that her first pilgrimage to Poland in 2016 gave her a new hold on her faith and allowed her to experience “the love of Jesus through the joyous pilgrims, who represented the universal Church.”

Bonilla is taking to heart the archbishop’s call to pray in reparation for the damage done by abusive members of the clergy. In the lead-up to the World Youth Day event in January, Bonilla is meeting to pray with other pilgrims and members of the community on the first Saturday of every month in reparation for these offenses.

Our Lady of Fátima requested that reparation for the sins of the world be made through a First Saturday devotion. Each first Saturday for five successive months, the faithful are called to go to confession, receive Holy Communion, say five decades of the rosary and “keep [Our Lady] company for a quarter of an hour, meditating on the 15 mysteries of the rosary.”

Sister Lúcia Santos, one of the three children Mary appeared to, said in 1939, “Whether the world has war or peace depends on the practice of this devotion, along with the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is why I desire its propagation so ardently, especially because this is also the will of our dear Mother in Heaven.”

Bonilla said she is praying that the world is “set on fire with his mercy and love and asks that God will send healing graces upon those who are suffering in the Catholic Church — and for a renewal and revival in the Catholic Church.”

She is completing a Master of Divinity program at Franciscan School of Theology in Oceanside, and is open to discovering God’s calling for her as a young laywoman. She said that the archbishop’s words during the homily made her feel “the need to examine what is [her] role in this” as she seeks to also respond to the abuse scandal in a more practical way.

But despite the scandals, Bonilla said, “My hope is in Jesus, and I know that my world is not coming crumbling down. It doesn’t shake my faith. It leaves me with hope. This is our opportunity to have our voice. It makes me compassionate towards those who are suffering — not that I don’t get angry [at the abusers]. There is righteous anger.”

She was also quick to point out the assistance she has received from holy priests. “There are priests that are really, really close to me that have been a part of my walk,” Bonilla said. “And I don’t think that I would have been here if it wasn’t for them, from my confessor, to my spiritual director, to my bishop in my region.”

Archbishop Gomez sent the pilgrims forth with these parting words: “Let us keep praying and working for the renewal of the Church. Let us look forward to this pilgrimage in Panama and also in our Christian lives. It is a pilgrimage that we begin and begin again, always coming back to Jesus in the presence of the Eucharist.”


To make a donation in support of the pilgrims from the San Gabriel region, visit gofundme.com/sgrworldyouthday.

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