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Pomp Past, Masses Flock to Cathedral

Religion: Awe and piety, even tears, are much in evidence as people tour complex, attend services.

September 04, 2002|LARRY B. STAMMER and HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A day after the elite of Los Angeles and princes of the church filled the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels at its invitation-only dedication, the soaring edifice Tuesday became a cathedral for the common man and woman.

Surprising even the priests who hoped for a good turnout, an estimated 1,200 people showed up for the first daily Mass at 7 a.m. An additional 2,500 attended the 12:10 p.m. Mass, part of a first-day crowd that archdiocese officials estimated at 12,000.

Norwalk resident Margarita Gonzalez, 68, took a bus, the Green Line train and then the Blue Line to get to the new downtown landmark. The trip from her home to the statue of Mary at the cathedral lasted an hour and 40 minutes.

Kneeling before the statue, Gonzalez prayed and dabbed her tears with a tissue. "They say it cost $200 million, and that it was a waste of money," she said. "But really it's all for God. What's $200 million for God?"

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 07, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 7 inches; 279 words Type of Material: Correction
Consecrated wine--A California section story Wednesday about Catholics worshipping at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels incorrectly reported that consecrated bread and wine are kept in a tabernacle following Mass. The consecrated bread, or host, is kept in the tabernacle. But any consecrated wine, which Catholics believe is the blood of Christ, that is not consumed during Mass is either consumed by a priest or other liturgical minister or reverently poured into the ground.

Many of Tuesday's visitors were as excited and awestruck as the business, civic and political leaders at Monday's dedication liturgy.

"This is magnificent, I tell you," said Rob Lazaga of Duarte. "The people who come here will see the flow of Jesus' life into their own. It could be transforming."

"It's kind of overwhelming," said Matt Hourihan, 44, of Pasadena, who left the church 20 years ago. "All the thought that went into it. It makes me want to return to the church."

Priests and others who had been present Monday said the mood was different Tuesday. There were far more displays of simple piety and many more tears.

After the 12:10 p.m. Mass, a line 90 feet long formed inside the cathedral, as the devout waited to approach the 14-foot tall wooden cross bearing the cast-bronze corpus of the suffering Jesus.

Officials of the archdiocese had invited cathedral visitors to walk around the altar and approach the crucifix. They did not expect what happened next.

One after another, worshipers went up to the statue, crossed themselves and began to touch it, many with tears in their eyes. They rubbed the bronze feet of the suffering savior; they rubbed the flayed and abraded skin. They lingered.

The scene reminded some of the way pilgrims rub the bronze feet of a statue of St. Peter in the Basilica in Vatican City that bears his name. Over the ages, the toes on Peter's feet have disappeared from the rubbings.

"It's really amazing," said archdiocesan spokesman Tod Tamberg. "You could see 500 years from now the tradition here is to kiss the shins and touch the shins of the crucifix--and it's starting today."

Those in Tuesday's crowd were mostly working people, kneeling, praying, paying $2 and lighting a votive candle.

A Latino couple stood in silence for several minutes in the cathedral plaza before a shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. "It is beautiful in my heart," Marcos de la Cruz of Van Nuys said in broken English.

Maria Gutierrez, 75, a Pico Rivera resident and native of Guatemala, tarried before the painting of Mexico's patroness a little bit longer than her niece and her two small children. As her relatives walked away, Gutierrez, with halting steps, ventured closer to the painting and, standing amid the other onlookers, gazed at it shyly.

"It's a real beauty," she said. "Guatemalans don't venerate her the same way Mexicans do, but to me she is the world's mother and a mother to me. I love her dearly."

Inside the cathedral, secretaries on their lunch hour and a Latino family reverently knelt in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel before the stylized tabernacle containing the consecrated bread and wine, which Catholics believe is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. A little girl took a long-stemmed rose from a bouquet her mother had brought and gently laid it on the floor before the tabernacle.

There were old people in wheelchairs, young mothers with infants, working men in white cotton T-shirts, and a teenage boy wearing a baseball cap and headphones. "Oh, my God, it's beautiful and it's joyful. It's a different feeling. It's just like floating up in the air," said Rebecca Cate of La Canada Flintridge.

One man carried a plastic grocery bag as he kissed the ring of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles. An old woman approached the cardinal and wept as he blessed her.

"God bless you. Thanks for coming," Mahony told one. "Congratulations," someone told the cardinal. Another momentarily held his hand. "Thank you for your beautiful cathedral," he said.

"Our cathedral," Mahony corrected him.

Commenting on those who held a banner Monday protesting the cost of the cathedral, the cardinal said, "I wish people carrying 'No Fat Cat Cathedral' signs could have been here today."

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