JOHNNY FLORES JR/ Coachella Uninc
My introduction to religion began the day I was baptized. With a splash of holy water, I was pronounced Catholic. I was about one year old at the time.
I am now 16 and have attended Catholic school my entire life. As I begin my third year at Xavier College Preparatory, I asked myself what I have learned about religion and its meaning.
Upon reflection, I realize this is what I have learned: there is more to religion than believing in God. We must also act.
At my school, students are encouraged to strive for magis, a Jesuit belief that means to “do more.” In other words, we should not only pray and go to church but also help the marginalized, make the most of each day, aim to make better, and right wrongs. Most importantly, I have learned that we must do this all with love.
So how does all of this influence my view on the meaning religion? In grade school, perhaps because of my age, attending religion class and going to weekly Mass was just part of a routine.
But earlier this year, as the College of Cardinals was selecting a new pope, I was excited, along with the rest of my classmates, as we waited for the white smoke to rise at the Vatican. We were filled with hope as we awaited a new era and what it might bring. Classrooms erupted with cheers when news came that Jorge Mario Bergogli, a Jesuit from Argentina, had been chosen to lead our church.
While it was nice to cheer for a new Jesuit pope, now known as Francis, I wondered if his message would even matter to the world. But I have come to find that, with Francis at the helm, each new day has brought new meaning to Catholicism. I believe that Francis strives for justice within the Catholic Church and in the world as a whole. I am hopeful that, one day soon, gay men and women will no longer be excluded and that we will no longer ignore our brothers and sisters living on the margins of society.
Recently, when responding to a question about gay priests, Francis said, “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?”
These words could not come at a better time. With the legal advances in the gay rights movement, I believe these words provide hope for many.
But, just like there are those who disagree with the church’s pro-immigration stance, there are many who have condemned Francis for saying this. I am not one of those people.
My views on religion continue to evolve as I grow, reflect, question, and come to my own conclusions.
If there is more to religion than going to church, then how can we exclude and condemn certain people while we simultaneously preach love? How can we ignore those who are suffering yet preach the need for servitude?
My definition of religion is love for all people, equality among all people, and servitude to all people. Because my school is very diverse, I have had the opportunity to attend Mass with 500 students from many faiths and serve our community together.
These are experiences that I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.
This is religion.
Johnny Flores, Jr., 16, lives in Coachella and attends Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert.