On a warm Friday morning in May at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado, about 40 Knights of Columbus dressed in full regalia flanked the entrance of the church as friends and family of Kendrick Castillo filed in to commend him to God at his funeral.
Each attendee was handed a small card - on one side, Kendrick smiling, dressed in a Christmas sweater and sitting on a Jeep. On the other side, a simple tribute including his birth and death dates, funeral location, and the bible verse John 15:13 that seems to capture the way his life ended: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Kendrick was the lone casualty in the STEM high school shooting on May 7 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He died, witnesses say, after he jumped up in the line of fire and ran to stop one of the shooters with a couple other students.
His funeral was attended by relatives and friends that filled the large Catholic church, and included an honor guard of 80 Knights of Columbus, about half of whom dressed in the old feather-capped regalia, and half in the new uniform with a beret.
The Knights lined the aisles and drew their swords in tribute to Kendrick during the processional and recessional, honoring a young man who spent hundreds of hours volunteering for the Knights of Columbus with his dad. A group of Kendrick’s close friends from high school served as pallbearers.
Bishop Jorge Rodríguez, auxiliary bishop of Denver, and five other priests and deacons presided at the Mass.
In his homily, Rodriguez talked about how Kendrick imitated Christ and “pleased God” throughout his life as a selfless, loving person.
Kendrick was “a holy young man,” Rodriguez said. “A young man who was a good disciple of Jesus Christ. We call ‘saints’ those able to love to the end. Kendrick gave everything he is, and everything he had -family, a future, a degree, his life- so other young men and women could go back to their families, have a future, graduate and live.”
“Kendrick’s life is like the echo of Jesus’ words: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,’” he added, again referencing John 15:13.
The bishop referenced Scripture throughout his homily, noting how Kendrick was pleasing to and loved by God.
“Only a young man with God in his heart and possessing a big good heart can do what he did: to lay down his life to save his friends. I’m sure John and Maria, that you feel proud of your son: God too is very proud of his child, Kendrick,” Rodriguez said.
“The Book of Wisdom repeats: ‘His soul was pleasing to the Lord.’ The soul is the center of our consciousness, freedom, the seat of love and will; that self that makes us God’s image and touches who we really are. God loves Kendrick’s soul because he is a good young man,” he added.
He noted that Kendrick was only a few days from his high school graduation when he was killed, and could have accomplished many more things on earth with his “big good heart,” but that he was now with God, where “all the evil of this world will not be able to touch him again.”
Instead, Kendrick experienced a much more profound kind of graduation, Rodriguez said.
“Kendrick graduated not for an academic degree, but he graduated in humanity and in Christian life,” he said.
At the end of life, everyone will be examined not on their academic knowledge or worldly success, the bishop noted, but on how well they loved.
“Kendrick passed this test with honors,” he said. “He accomplished in a short time a great career in honorableness, love and holiness. As Scripture says, the greatness of a man ‘cannot be measured in terms of years.’”
Even though Kendrick was a good person and is loved and cared for by the Lord, his death still causes “unbearable” pain, especially for his family, Rodriguez said.
The bishop encouraged John and Maria, the parents of Kendrick, to hold fast to the Gospel of John 6:40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”
That passage, Rodriguez said, contains two promises for Kendrick: that he is enjoying eternal life in heaven, and that he will be raised with Jesus on the last day.
“Dream with that moment, when you will see Kendrick right in front of you, radiant, smiling and coming to you for a big hug,” he said.
He then encouraged everyone in attendance to follow the example of Kendrick’s faith and love, and thanked John and Maria for their son.
“John and Maria, Kendrick, your son, is a gift for all of us. And we all must commit to keep his legacy and to praise God for the gift of Kendrick’s years among us.”
“God loves your child. Now, he is with him. And he left, keeping you in his heart.”