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Honoring the dead, inspiring the living

Hundreds of Roman Catholics attend an annual All Souls Day celebration at a cemetery in Orange to remember and reflect.

October 29, 2006|Yvonne Villarreal | Times Staff Writer

Oscar Alvarez cupped his face in his left hand, shielding his tears as they streamed onto the bouquet of long-stemmed orange carnations he grasped. The tears reflected his anguish over the death of his mother last December from cancer.

Alvarez was one of about 600 attending the All Souls Day celebration Saturday at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange.

The annual event is a Roman Catholic holiday honoring the lives of those who have died and, Catholics believe, still suffer in purgatory -- the final process of purification from sins. The traditional Mass is meant to provide reflection for those still striving to lead holy lives.

"The days he comes to her grave he wishes he could feel her," said Michael Gutierrez-Alvarez of his uncle's tears. "Seeing the priest and everyone around makes him believe her spirit is with us."

In Mexico All Souls Day is known as El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, and is usually celebrated Nov. 2. It's observed there, and in certain parts of the United States and Central America, with varying customs and traditions.

Saturday's festivities in Orange were awash in orange and bright-yellow carnations cluttering the tabletops serving as altars. Set up by parishes from throughout Southern California, the altars honored deceased members of each community who had had a special impact on others.

Elaborate crucifixes served as focal points, flower petals surrounded candles and holy figurines glistened in the sunlight where pears, miniature pumpkins, grapes, bread and other foods lay as offerings to the deceased.

But it was the portraits of those who had died that most caught the interest of passersby wishing to hear the stories behind them. "Que precioso [How precious]," said one, gazing at a display." People pass by asking questions and commenting on how they like it," said Martha Salazar, who had set up the altar for St. Nicholas Parish in Laguna Woods.

In Catholic tradition, altars are believed to serve as gateways between the dead and the living, recognizing the cycles of life and death.

During Saturday's Mass, many sat in the scorching heat under umbrellas singing hymns as others watched from afar under the shade of trees grasping bouquets close to their hearts.

"The faith of the people motivates me," said the Rev. Rudolph J. Preciado, pastor of St. Anthony Claret in Anaheim, who led the Mass. "They believe in the celebration and memorial of the dead."

In his sermon, the priest emphasized the importance of using the holiday as a reminder to lead better lives.

"It's a moment of remembrance and reflection," he said. "The things you learn will help you."

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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