This weekend I had the blessing to join more than 1,100 teenagers for our first annual “City of Saints” conference, hosted by the archdiocese’s Religious Education Department.
It was a hope-filled, inspiring event — high energy with deep spirituality. I was moved to see so many of our young people lining up to go to confession, coming to the Eucharist with reverence and devotion. I was grateful to be joined by nearly 50 of my brother priests and more than 150 volunteers.
And as I was praying and talking with our young people this weekend, I was thinking that Los Angeles really is a “city of saints.” We can tend to forget that.
It is obvious to us that our city and all the cities surrounding us form a dynamic metropolis that sets the tone and direction for the world in terms of fashion and architecture, entertainment and arts and global commerce.
What is less obvious is that in the places where we now have skyscrapers and freeways — saints have walked.
There was Blessed María Inés Teresa Arias, a refugee from Mexico, who founded the Poor Clare Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in the 1930s. There was Venerable Maria Luisa Josefa de la Peña — Mother Luisita — also a Mexican refugee who founded the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles
Of course, the Hollywood Freeway U.S. 101 was once the road traveled by the Franciscan missionary founders of Los Angeles and California — led by the man who will be soon be America’s first Hispanic saint, Blessed Junípero Serra.
In my prayers these days and weeks, I have been reflecting on Father Serra’s writings. And I continue to be struck — not only by his strong defense of the native peoples, but also by his passion for sharing the Gospel, and his love for creation and his spirituality of discovery.
Father Serra gave us some of the first descriptions of California that we have. He writes beautifully about the mountains and the plains, the blazing sun, the brooks and rivers, the cottonwood and willow trees, even the sound of a roaring lion that kept them awake at night.
Here is just one of many beautiful passages:
It seems that the thorns and rocks of California have disappeared, since these enormous mountains are almost entirely of pure soil. But there are flowers in abundance and beautiful ones. And that nothing should be wanting in that direction, when we came to our stopping place, we met the queen of flowers — the Rose of Castile. While I write this, I have in front of me a cutting from a rose tree with three roses in full bloom, others opening out, and more than six unpetaled — Blessed be he who created them!
This is what California looked like in the beginning — through the eyes of a saint.
And I was thinking — we all want to see our world as the saints see it, as God sees it. We all want to see what the Scriptures call the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.
There is trouble in our cities and trouble in our world. We know this. In recent weeks, we have seen a rise in the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East. We have all been shocked by the videos on the Internet that show Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics are selling the organs and body parts of unborn children.
This week we are also remembering the 50th anniversary of the riots here in Watts. As we know from our national conversation during the past year, we continue to have problems with racism and violence in our cities.
And every day, here in Los Angeles and across our nation, we don’t have to look too far for reminders that we still have a long way to go before we become a city of saints.
Yet sometimes we can get caught up in our activism and in our struggles to address material problems and injustice. The real solutions and possibilities — for our city and our world — are spiritual. It all begins with you and me.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t work to promote justice and human dignity. We have a Christian duty to work to end discrimination in our society and to help everyone to have access to housing, health care and jobs. We need to work to expand opportunities for young people and to help those who have served time in prison to be reintegrated into society.
But our work to change the world begins “inside” each of us. We can’t change the world if we don’t change ourselves first.
Peace on earth, justice in our communities — everything begins with our personal response to the call of God, who is calling each us to become saints and to work together to make this world a city of saints.
So let’s pray for our city this week and pray for our young people.
Later this month, on Aug. 29, I will be celebrating a special Mass and leading a procession in honor of the namesake and patroness of our great city, Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles.
Let’s ask Our Lady of the Angels to help us to make our lives more beautiful, more compassionate, more like Jesus — and to help us work together to make this world more like our Creator intended it. A city of saints.