Southland families celebrate Easter with church services, egg hunts

Across Southern California, families mark Easter with special services, egg hunts and live rabbits

Southern California families came together on Easter Sunday to celebrate in many ways, including with a traditional sunrise service in Huntington Beach, special masses at downtown Los Angeles' Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and a host of charity events.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez presided over a 10 a.m. Mass at the cathedral, speaking to thousands of Catholics about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, saying, "We are all united as one family today in sharing the joy of Easter."

He also relayed a message from Pope Francis that "Catholics everywhere today should pray for peace."

Thousands of people, meanwhile, lined the blocks around downtown's Grand Hope Park for an annual Easter festival that featured sack races, face-painting and egg hunts.

All proceeds from the entrance fee, $10 for families of up to seven people, would go to providing birthday parties for homeless children who rarely experience the joys afforded to other kids, said Kevin Haah, the lead pastor of New City Church, which sponsored the event.

"We want to serve the people of the city by creating a fun, low-cost event and at the same time help raise money for kids in skid row," Haah said.

The festival was expected to attract up to 3,000 people from across the city. Manny Garcia stood at the back of a long line with his son, Hector, 7, for a chance to go down an inflated slide. Garcia said he hadn't known that the event would help homeless kids, but that it made him glad he brought his family. Hector was itching to go down the slide and "then I want some balloons and candy," he said, jumping up and down.

A few blocks away on skid row, dozens of volunteers served more than 2,000 people — most homeless or near-homeless — honey-baked ham, chicken, macaroni salad and red beans and jambalaya, in a block party-like celebration at the Midnight Mission, which provides shelter and services to the homeless.

Some families came to pick up Easter baskets for their children or clothing donations. Celebrity guests put in appearances, including former Temptations singer Louis Price, who took the stage to croon "My Girl" to a rapt audience.

"It's something very beautiful," said Marta Montero, 29, in Spanish. Montero, a nanny, brought her five children, ages 1 to 9, for the celebration. The kids grinned as they got their pictures taken with the Easter Bunny, and then made their way to the back booth to pick up Easter baskets.

Ryan Navales, the mission's manager of government and public affairs, came to the mission through its work therapy program three and a half years ago, after years of addiction and off-and-on homelessness that had cost him his family. Events like the Easter gathering are important for people who have lost ties to their loved ones, Navales said.

"We create our own community here for those that don't have it," he said.

In Pasadena, hundreds of parents and children gathered at the Kidspace Children's Museum for an annual Easter egg hunt and a chance to learn how to do the bunny hop and pet live rabbits provided by the nonprofit Bunny World Foundation.

Katrina Arciosa brought her son, Thirdy, 3, who had made his own paper bunny ears and an orange, carrot-shaped basket to collect his eggs. "I hear something," Thirdy said, shaking a blue plastic egg. "It's candy," he continued, but he was intent on waiting until he got home to open the prizes.

At the bunny pen, Lissette Roncagliolo had brought two of her own rabbits, Kelly and Valentino, and was helping the children gently feed and pet the animals. Easter is a particularly hazardous time for bunnies, with the animals bought as pets and frequently abandoned once they grow and need more care, she said.

"When families realize they're a lot of work, they get dumped at the shelter or set free, but they're not capable of surviving by themselves," said Roncagliolo, who works with the Bunny World Foundation.

Sebastianne Jorge, 8, wanted to know how Roncagliolo could tell which bunny was a boy.

"This is my first time petting a bunny," Sebastianne said. "It felt weird. But they're my favorite pet now."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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