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Sacred Space, Worldly Role

September 11, 2002

On the day World War II ended, people of all faiths spontaneously congregated at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles. A Jewish man who was there told Jack Miles, God's unofficial biographer, that the ad hoc flock radiated gratitude and relief: "They were mourning ... but they also felt at peace."

Critics, professional and lay, have already said plenty about the Los Angeles Archdiocese's new downtown cathedral as architecture and art. The coming months will reveal just where the cathedral fits into the civic landscape.

The day after the official dedication, about 12,000 people showed up at the controversial edifice. Some came to celebrate Mass. Some came to worship in their own non-Catholic way. And no doubt many of little or no faith came simply to see what all the fuss was about.

The challenge for the Catholic hierarchy and the city is to keep all these constituencies returning to this space that many, but not all, view as sacred.

The church will demonstrate its desire to be an ecumenical magnet by holding an interfaith remembrance service today on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Participants include the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Islamic Center of Southern California, the Southern California Ecumenical Council, the Vedanta Society of Southern California, the National Conference for Community and Justice and representatives of the Bahai, Greek Orthodox and Sikh communities.

Today's gathering establishes the dramatic new cathedral as another sacred gathering point for Southern Californians. We hope it also inspires the archdiocese to a bolder mission.

Make that beautifully austere courtyard the place for a meeting on the gang warfare that continues to terrorize this city. Once a year, turn offices and meeting rooms into a state-of-the-art think tank for addressing ways to help the mentally ill and addicted people living on California's streets. Encourage people of all faiths and no faith to gather for problem-solving sessions on the smog that chokes the city's children. Bring people together to confront the ongoing implosion of Los Angeles schools.

In other words, generously make this new, boldly conceived space, which Catholics hold sacred, significant to the entire city.

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