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Moments to Reflect, Before the Hoopla

Religious services in Southern California focus on social issues and their relationships to faith--and on maintaining peace amid the protests.


Presbyterians in Hollywood bowed their heads and prayed for peace. With hands raised to heaven, Catholics in Boyle Heights invoked God's name in fighting for the rights of imprisoned youths. And Jewish leaders in the San Fernando Valley meditated on an end to racism.

From pews and pulpits across Southern California this weekend, pastors, rabbis, priests and congregations of virtually all faiths directed their prayers and sermons to Democrats in Los Angeles for their national convention.

In a private service at the Wilshire Grand Hotel on Sunday, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of the Los Angeles archdiocese took his message directly to the delegates.

About 100 Democratic delegates and Mayor Richard Riordan attended a Mass where Mahony urged that political decisions be based on faith, not polls.

"Those of you gathered here this morning represent leadership from across the United States," Mahony said. "And with leadership comes responsibility. In the end, God will not rely on polling data to judge our fidelity to the Gospels. God will not convene focus groups to determine our moral integrity or our ethical fitness. Instead we will face a self-examination that is both simple and stark. Whatever we did for the least of those among us, we did for God."

During his homily, Mahony also urged the delegates to be guided by "compassion and forgiveness." Though he joked about the Mass being "nonpartisan," Mahony used the homily to denounce legalized abortion, which is supported in the Democratic Party platform.

At Dolores Mission Catholic Church, a predominantly Latino community in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East L.A., a parish group composed of mothers who have children in prison prayed for incarcerated youths. The mothers sought God's help in changing a recently passed law that allows offenders as young as 14 to be prosecuted as adults. The church is planning a protest Wednesday morning in front of the Criminal Courts Building on Temple Street.

"We're trying to make a connection between faith and the lives of our community," said Father Michael Kennedy.

Before Sabbath services on Friday, Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills said poverty, childhood malnutrition, living wages and labor relations are among the serious issues that must be addressed.

He noted that during the recent janitors' strike in Los Angeles, labor and clergy joined together to resolve issues, setting an example for the rest of the county.

Jacobs also said the selection of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) as the first Jewish American on a national ticket creates an atmosphere that will allow the nation to examine race relations and anti-Semitism in more than a superficial manner.

At First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, Associate Pastor Albert Gillin led his congregation in praying for world peace, naming each continent and major trouble spot.

Turning his attention to the United States, he prayed that leaders from the president down to local officials will be governed by God's knowledge and wisdom.

"Particularly in this election year, we pray for the leaders of our nation and . . . for the citizenry that you will give us wisdom and guidance," Gillin said. "And we pray that throughout the entire process you would be lifted up and that all of our leaders" will be gifted with "your personal renewal of their spirit."

Gillin also mentioned a common theme heard at other places of worship: peace during the convention.

The prayers at First Presbyterian were the result of a plea from an anonymous Los Angeles police officer who voiced feelings of deep concern about possible violence on the streets outside the convention.

At Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles in Rosemead, the Rev. Melvin Fujikawa touched on the same note.

"As the national Democratic convention gets underway . . . we ask that your voice will calm our city with your calmness. We pray especially for peace. We pray for nonviolence."


Times staff writers Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, K. Connie Kang, Karima A. Haynes, Larry B. Stammer and Carla Rivera contributed to this story.

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