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September 11, 2002


New Los Angeles cathedral dedicated, opened to the world

Thousands attend blessing of Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

By Mike Nelson

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Nearly five years after its ground was blessed, and with thousands of people gathered in celebration in its plaza, the world's newest cathedral church was opened and dedicated Sept. 2 in downtown Los Angeles.

"My friends, welcome to the city's, and your, new cathedral," Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said at the start of the dedication liturgy for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

The sustained applause that greeted the cardinal's words reflected gratitude, joy and, yes, relief — as much at the conclusion of years of waiting for the new church as from the blazing September sun that baked the large cathedral plaza on the second hottest day of summer.

It was the people of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for whom the cathedral was built, Cardinal Mahony said, and they who must serve as "the living temple of the Lord," a people transformed by their experience of God inside so they may go forth to help build the kingdom of God outside.

"This cathedral must be much more than an optical delight for those who chance upon its beauty in the shifting shadows of the day," he said in his homily.

"Is all this splendor and architectural artistry enough for us? Can we rest content with the beauty arising from this spot? We must answer an emphatic `No!' Not as a kind of cultural treasure was the cathedral built. As a vibrant symbol of God's habitat in our city, this outer form must find an echo in the inner graces of a people who listen intently to God's word as it comes to us as challenge and consolation."

It is by the process of people coming to listen to God's word, and being nourished by God through the Eucharist, that a cathedral proves its worth to a community, the cardinal said.

"No one should leave this spot untouched by God's reshaping word," he said. "A traveling family, tourists, truck drivers or a carpool of co-workers on the Hollywood Freeway; an isolated person or small group coming for prayer; people in the neighborhood for whom this will be their regular place of worship — as much their local church as a great cathedral — each will feel God's own touch and presence and be opened to the light of God touching their own deepest places, the geography of their own hearts."

Cardinal Mahony promised that "the fullness of the Gospel of life will be proclaimed here, and each human life, from its earliest moments to its eldest years, will find in this place nurture and respect."

And, speaking as an archbishop whose motto on his coat of arms reads "To reconcile God's people," the cardinal added, "We will work together here to heal differences, be they among family members, co-workers or sectors in the city. The great cathedrals have been shaped by the craft and loving skills of countless artisans, many anonymous. Here we will strive to become different kinds of artisans, of peace and good will, forging links among diverse groups."

The four-hour liturgy began outside with the presentation to the cardinal of the designers' blueprints and plans by architect Jose Rafael Moneo and officials of executive architect Leo A. Daly and contractor Morley Builders.

Inside, the Mass was highlighted by the rites of dedication — anointing the altar, incensing and lighting the church. Singing was led by a 55-voice choir under the direction of Frank Brownstead, with music from the early Church as well as more contemporary composers.

Several hundred priests of the archdiocese, dozens of bishops and most of the U.S. cardinals filled the presbyterium near the altar, while invited guests filled the remainder of the new cathedral, three times larger than the former cathedral, St. Vibiana's.

The multicultural landscape of Los Angeles was evident throughout the celebration. Paul Guzman, a parishioner from St. Alphonsus Church in East Los Angeles, was part of the opening procession as a representative of the Gabrielino Indians — the original occupants of the area — and of one of the city's three founding families.

Guzman, who was shaking a rattle during the procession, explained that his great-great-grandparents helped build the San Gabriel Mission, his grandmother was baptized at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church and his father was baptized at St. Vibiana Cathedral.

"So being here, in the new cathedral, it's like the spirits of all my ancestors are with me," he said. "It's very, very emotional."

Members of the Ramos family, from St. Anthony Church in San Gabriel, also made an effort to "share our heritage" at the ceremony. Each wore a different traditional Mexican ensemble, including mariachi/charro attire, poblano- and Yucatan-style dresses and Aztec-inspired regalia.

"We wanted to bring our hopes and our faith before the Lord as God's people," explained Stephanie Ramos, who came with her husband, Humberto, and four of their six children.

Beverly Ryder, who was representing Edison International and is herself a Methodist, said she appreciated the ethnic diversity of the liturgy. "The service was very inclusive of all of us. It sets a standard for what we as Angelenos should strive to become in terms of inclusiveness, unity and diversity."

Joseph and Chu Do from St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Rowland Heights especially appreciated the participation of the Holy Cross Sisters from their homeland of Vietnam. The sisters were chosen to incense the cathedral during the liturgy and Joseph Do said he thought the incense smoke was "like wreaths of flowers offered to God."

But not all who showed up at the cathedral that day were pleased. Dozens of demonstrators — most of them members of the Catholic Worker movement — picketed to protest the $200 million cathedral complex. Others spoke out against sex abuse by clergy.

Jeff Dietrich, Catholic Worker director, said he thought Jesus would have used the money to directly provide services to the poor. But he acknowledged that the very poor for whom he was trying to advocate were showing their support for the cathedral.

"I think that the Church has always been filled with poor people who pay and pray and don't criticize. Because (the poor) don't agree with me doesn't make my position wrong," said Dietrich. "The prophetic word is always unpopular."

Contributing to this story were Jennifer C. Vergara, Ellie Hidalgo and Maria Torres.


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