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Blessing of the Waves brings religions together in Huntington Beach

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians and more are represented at the interfaith event. They join in prayer, song and surfing and honor victims of the recent natural disasters in southeast Asia.

October 05, 2009|Nicole Santa Cruz

With the sun peeking out through scattered clouds Sunday morning, hundreds of people gathered inches from Huntington Beach's waters to celebrate the ocean through song and prayer.

The Blessing of the Waves is an annual celebration that includes officials from various religions. This year organizers decided to include a more somber note: a moment of silence for victims of recent natural disasters in Southeast Asia.

"The ocean is the center of our community here," said Ryan Lilyengren, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.

The smooth howl of a conch shell signaled the beginning of prayer on the beach, where people held their hands high and listened to the hymns of a 20-member Tongan choir.

Surfers were to carry the song with them into the ocean to the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga and Indonesia.

Father Matt Munoz of St. Irenaeus Parish in Cypress led the crowd of hundreds in prayer, then jumped into the water with other religious leaders to surf. Religions represented at the event also included Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Kelekolio Taulanga, the director of the Anaheim-based Tongan choir, said a farewell song was chosen for the victims of the tsunami.

Taulanga's parents live on Eua, an island in Tonga, and were not hurt in the natural disaster. He found out Thursday that the choir would be performing.

"I'm proud to represent the Tongans in any occasion," he said.

Diana Soliz, 54, of Fountain Valley came to the celebration to remember a friend who had died surfing in Mexico.

"Today's his birthday," she said.

After the prayer, Steve Castelblanco of Huntington Beach stood with a cup of coffee alongside his neighbor, Jane Garski, looking at the waves.

"I love how people can come together from all denominations," he said.

Castelblanco, who has surfed in Indonesia, Australia and South America, said the celebration was appropriately timed in light of recent natural disasters.

"It makes it more real," he said.

Garski, a massage therapist, said she came to appreciate the sound and power of the waves. She said people need to focus on the positive rather than dwell on natural disasters.

"We don't have any power to control that," she said.

Dayna Barboza of Cypress said she was amazed that so many people from various religions were able to come together.

"This is what it's all about," she said, gesturing to the water a few feet away. "The beauty of the ocean."

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nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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