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CATHEDRAL OF OUR LADY OF THE ANGELS

L.A. Cathedral Is Dedicated

Ceremony: During the four-hour service, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony calls the downtown church an 'anchor for the ages.'

September 03, 2002|LARRY B. STAMMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was dedicated Monday, amid ancient prayers and pageantry, as a cathedral for the ages and a house of prayer for all people.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony led a procession through the cathedral's massive bronze doors to a four-hour service steeped in Catholic ritual dating to the 4th century. Three thousand invited guests expressed their devotion, then watched a sacred dance--a modern innovation in the Western church--and the traditional anointing of the altar and the building with aromatic holy oil.

The 12-story cathedral, built to stand at least 500 years, is the first major American cathedral to be built in three decades. Its dedication as the mother church of the nation's largest and most ethnically diverse Roman Catholic archdiocese culminated eight years of an effort led by Mahony to build a monumental cathedral that he vowed would be worthy of the City of Angels.

"At long last, there is a noble great church at the heart of Los Angeles," Mahony declared as sunlight, distilled to a phosphorous essence by towering windows of Spanish alabaster, streamed into the cavernous nave.

He ended with a shimmering vision of a 21st century cathedral, rooted in 18th century California history, committed to building a just and inclusive community in the state's "most diverse and decidedly most global city."

"From this day forward," he proclaimed, "the stones of this building will sing, echoes rolling down the ages, telling of love and justice through the lives of all who come and go from this house of prayer for all people."

Mahony called the church an "anchor for the ages."

The dedication liturgy on an unusually hot and humid day was witnessed by a personal representative of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican's ambassador to the U.S., 11 other U.S. cardinals and nearly a thousand bishops, priests and deacons in vestments of matching hues of white and adobe.

Also present were more than 1,300 donors and parishioners, many of them among the city's most prominent business, civic and entertainment figures, as well as the Spanish architect, Jose Rafael Moneo, who designed the cathedral.

It was a moment of triumph and celebration for the church, which for the last eight months has been shaken by local and national scandals over the alleged sexual abuse of minors by priests and bishops. For downtown business interests and civic leaders, Monday marked a signal achievement in attempts to bring a new vibrancy to the heart of the city.

And for many of the Los Angeles archdiocese's 5 million Catholics who never ventured to the old St. Vibiana's Cathedral, which languished on the edge of skid row, the day marked an introduction to their first mother church.

St. Vibiana's, a Spanish Baroque building at the long-faded corner of 2nd and Main streets, was severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. It has been sold by the archdiocese, and there are plans to convert it into a center for the performing arts.

The design of the Moneo cathedral--which, at 333 feet in length, was designed to be a foot longer than St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York--has drawn both praise and criticism.

Its soaring angular rooflines and feathered concrete walls suggest angels' wings in the abstract for some. Others have complained that the monumental building's austerity and untraditional design are cold and uninspiring.

Demonstrators were on hand Monday to underscore their long-standing criticism of the $189.5-million cost of the cathedral and conference center in view of the ever-present needs of the poor and marginalized. One sign proclaimed, "No Fat Cat Cathedral."

Mahony announced at the end of Monday's service that the cathedral complex had been "fully funded" by cash receipts and pledges.

The $189.5-million "final cost" figure was also released Monday by the archdiocese. Earlier estimates had put the cost at $200 million.

There were also demonstrators who supported the cathedral. "We are praying for you," a sign said. Still others used the occasion to remind the archdiocese of the sexual abuse scandal, in which more than 250 priests nationwide have resigned or been dismissed and scores of bishops have been criticized for lax oversight. A large papier-mache effigy of Mahony held a sign that read, "Suffer the little children."

Mahony made no reference to the scandal in his homily, although he spoke in general terms about the redemption of sinners and the transforming effect of God's word.

Mahony has said in interviews that the cathedral will stand, as cathedrals have through the ages, as a beacon of righteousness and God's love even in the face of scandal and disappointment in the church.

Among the cardinals present were two whose resignations have been demanded by many in their archdioceses--Bernard Law of Boston and Edward M. Egan of New York. Mahony has been critical of Law in the past, but an archdiocese spokesman said it is customary to invite all American cardinals to such an event.

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