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Drivers and Autos Get a Sprinkling of Faith

A clergyman offers prayers for enthusiasts and hundreds of vehicles at the Blessing of the Cars in Pacoima.

August 01, 2004|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

The Blessing of the Cars at Hansen Dam Park in Pacoima started officially with a prayer from the stage of a flatbed truck -- while the Graveside Rockers, the band that had just played, was still packing its drums.

"Dear God, we ask your blessings today to come upon all these people gathered here, and upon their cars," the Rev. Norm Supancheck, chaplain of an Episcopal high school in Mission Hills, said Saturday at the event. "We ask that the people, the cars, the owners, feel your presence with them."

With that, Supancheck descended into the crowd of car enthusiasts and began sprinkling holy water from a small plastic bottle onto dozens and dozens of hot rods, vintage cars and custom bikes.

The priest, wearing a stole decorated with orange hot rod flames and a checker-flag border, stopped at each vehicle whose owner requested it and repeated the blessing, give or take a few extra appeals: "Bless this car and those who ride in it.... Amen."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 04, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Blessing of the Cars -- An article in Sunday's California section about the Blessing of the Cars said that the Rev. Norm Supancheck was chaplain of an Episcopal high school in Mission Hills. It is a Catholic high school.

By morning, at least 200 pre-1968 cars had lined up at the park for the 11th Blessing of the Cars, which has grown each year, organizer Stephanie Baltierra said.

By 2 p.m., rows of latecomers were backed up along Bronfield Avenue, ready to pay $20 to register their cars and enter the festival.

Spectators without vintage cars paid less to enjoy the live music, food and shopping.

Baltierra, who works the event with her business partner and ex-husband Gabriel Baltierra, said true car lovers do not jest about the possibility of driving their classic vehicles under God's favor.

"I just liked the idea of having a priest bless my car," Baltierra said. "People are respectful."

In the past, clergy members from different churches have been enlisted for the blessings. The Baltierras provide the car culture stole.

Gabriel Gonzales, a 24-year-old custom-car builder from Reseda, said he and his family have attended the last four Blessing of the Cars to have holy water sprinkled on their primer-coated 1969 Chevrolet wagon.

"We come every year, just to redo it. It's the family car," he said.

"We take our cats, our dogs, to the blessing of the animals at Olvera Street in this car," he added, referring to the pet blessing at the downtown plaza on Easter.

The blessing of pets, livestock, homes and personal belongings -- like a prized 1956 Ford 4-100 with painted purple flames -- is part of ancient spiritual traditions, Supancheck said. "People need their cars for transportation. It's also very much a Hispanic tradition."

Some car owners solemnly thanked Supancheck after their blessing.

But more than anything, he was met with requests to repeat his blessing so a car owner could snap a picture -- car and priest. Obliging, the priest struck poses over open hoods, shiny engines exposed, or stood next to female car lovers in 1950s-influenced dresses and hairdos.

"My brothers are going to be jealous!" Supancheck said laughing.

Riverside resident Megan Vasquez, 39, got her 1954 apple green Shoebox sedan and her son Artie's custom bicycle blessed. Cars can be a bridge for strangers to connect, she said.

"We were sitting here with an 86-year-old man from Mexico who doesn't speak English, but I speak Spanish, and we can talk about cars," Vasquez said. "It brings people together."

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