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Opening Their Hearts to a New Spiritual Home


There are probably no words for what the opening of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels will mean to 84-year-old Mike Carcano's family. But Msgr. Terrance Fleming came close early Monday when he saw Carcano at the dedication and said simply, "Welcome home."

Carcano had some of the deepest ties to Catholic Los Angeles' previous mother church, St. Vibiana's. The old church was the Los Angeles Archdiocese's cathedral center for 117 years before being severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. And for 65 years, Carcano was part of her flock.

St. Vibiana's was the glue that held together Carcano's far-flung clan of five children, 23 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. Every Sunday for decades, he would rouse them all with terse 5 a.m. phone greetings ("Get up!") and drive as far as Whittier to pick up the grandchildren, who would be altar servers. Every Sunday after Mass, the family would gather at his home for homemade Mexican brunches of steaming menudo, tortillas, tamales and bean burritos.

After St. Vibiana's was closed, the family scattered to their neighborhood churches and suspended their Sunday brunch tradition. Now that the new cathedral has officially opened, the Carcano family, 12 of whom attended Monday's dedication, say they hope the weekly gatherings can begin anew.

"We've waited for this moment almost 10 years," said Carcano, who played a ceremonial role connecting past and future by carrying in the marble box of saints' relics from St. Vibiana's. "Now we can all be together again."

Other Catholics who attended the dedication under sweltering skies also expressed excitement that the cathedral would become a sacred gathering place for the greater church in a way St. Vibiana's never could. As the diocese grew to the most populous in the nation, the 1,200-seat St. Vibiana's was considered inadequate for such special occasions as Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's 1985 installation as archbishop and Pope John Paul II's celebration of Mass there in 1987.

New Traditions

Catholics such as Adriana Vasquez, 36, a Catholic school kindergarten teacher from Bell Gardens, fondly remember Sunday mornings at St. Vibiana's. "They had mariachis at Mass, and I remember the beautiful windows," she recalled. Yet as she waited on the plaza level Monday for the ceremony to begin, she said she could imagine new traditions at this gathering place.

"This plaza, this space, reminds me of being outside churches in Mexico," she said. "There are so many Latinos here. I can see Las Posadas [a Christmastime pageant] here. I can see the procession for the Virgin of Guadalupe here."

Kiku and Clare Kurahashi, sisters and parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Chapel in Little Tokyo, said that they rarely visited St. Vibiana's, and that many Catholics found it inaccessible with its wrought-iron gates and restricted public space.

"But this is much more open," Kiku Kurahashi said, gesturing to the open public plaza filled with milling guests and volunteers in maroon jackets sharing post-ceremony sandwiches, soft drinks and conversation. Added her sister, Claire: "It's time for the church to go outward, not stay inward. This is a good foundation to build that from."

Some Catholics, however, confessed what Jaime Corado, 22, described as "big challenges in my heart" to accept the cathedral as his new spiritual home.

For Corado, a Salvadoran immigrant and seminarian in his third semester at St. John's in Camarillo, the old church on the fringe of skid row was his first parish in the United States. It was a place where parishioners would give him food and shoes, where he trained as an altar server and where priests inspired him to enter the seminary more than a year ago.

"The people of St. Vibiana's showed me the spirit of God. They were like my family. They made me a gentle man," Corado said. "I miss it."

But, he said, he holds a letter that speaks to his future. Cardinal Mahony has sent him an invitation to be an altar server at Our Lady of the Angels. He looks forward to the relationship, but feels a certain anxiety. "This place is supposed to be my new home, but it doesn't yet feel that way."

The new cathedral contains parts of St. Vibiana's that seemed to comfort the old parishioners--most hearteningly, the brilliant stained-glass windows installed in the mausoleum beneath the sanctuary. When Minerva Amaro, 47, of the Pico Union district, saw them, she said she choked up as a flood of memories rushed back.

Barry Boudreaux, who was part of the mausoleum design team of J. Stuart Todd, said his crowning career achievement will always be linked to St. Vibiana's.

"We saved the stained-glass windows," he said. "The whole subdued design of the mausoleum is to centerpiece those windows."

St. Vibiana's will become a performing arts center for Cal State Los Angeles; preservationists were able to prevent the archdiocese from simply tearing it down.

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