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A Cathedral Closing Leaves the Faithful Churchless

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The lockup of St. Vibiana’s cathedral complex on Saturday did more than disrupt archdiocesan plans to dismantle a bell tower. It disrupted the lives of parishioners and downtown workers who have attended weekday Mass there for years.

“I’m annoyed that people are only hearing the other side’sstory,” says Celia Guerrero, who works in a law office near St. Vibiana and has attended daily Mass at the 120-year-old church for eight years. “Why can’t we picket in front of City Hall?” she suggests.

On Monday, Guerrero started to attend morning Mass closer to her home in Monterey Park. “But it’s not the same,” she says. “I feel there’s a lot missing.”

Construction workers on Saturday were in the process of taking down the tower when preservationists from the Los Angeles Conservancy obtained a restraining order, claiming illegal demolition of a city-protected landmark.

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The archdiocese, the largest in the United States, maintains that the right to practice religion is being “stolen,” says Father Gregory Coiro, archdiocese spokesman.

A hearing is now scheduled for June 17. At that time it will be decided whether the church tower can be removed.

The complete demolition of the complex is not expected to begin for another year.

Churchgoers at St. Vibiana said they expected that there would be more time to relocate. “The priests were going to look for another place near the cathedral where we could hear Mass,” said Guerrero.

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To date, according to the archdiocesan office, no such arrangements have been made.

On Monday morning at 6:30, an elderly priest stood on the sidewalk outside the cathedral parking lot, which was blockaded. He explained to people arriving for the first service of the day that all Masses are canceled until further notice.

“We don’t know how long we will be closed,” he said. “It could be a month or more.”

The church closing will affect at least 100 downtown workers who had been attending daily services or afternoon prayer gatherings, in the abandoned complex’s school cafeteria or chapel.

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In addition, there were approximately 100 registered members of the parish who continued to attend Sunday services at St. Vibiana, although the church proper was closed in May 1995 due to earthquake damage.

Raymond Aguilar, who works at the archdiocesan office, has attended St. Vibiana since childhood. He also served as an altar boy.

“I know I can find a new parish,” he says. “But I’ll miss seeing the people I’m used to. The Cathedral was always a tightknit community.”

On Tuesday, Monsignor Terrance Fleming, who oversees Cathedral management, instructed approximately 10 employees at St. Vibiana that it would be their last day until further notice.

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Exact details were not available, but some people will use up vacation time and others will have their work hours reduced, according to Bill Baeder, business manager at the cathedral.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Alternative Services

Parish members and downtown workers looking for alternatives to St. Vibiana can turn to several nearby Catholic Churches for Mass:

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* Our Lady Queen of Angels (Masses in Spanish only), 535 N. Main St., (213) 629-3101.

Monday-Saturday: 6:30 and 8 a.m., noon and 5:30 p.m.

Sunday: 6:30, 7:45, 9, 10:15 and 11:30 a.m., 12:45, 2, 3:15, 4:30, 5:45 and 7 p.m.

* Our Lady Chapel, 811 S. Flower St., (213) 627-4861.

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Monday-Friday: 7:30 and 11:35 a.m., 12:05 p.m.

Saturday: 7:30 a.m., 12:05 and 5 p.m.

Sunday: 7:30 and 10:30 a.m., noon.

* St. Joseph, 218 E. 12th St., (213) 748-5394.

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Monday-Friday: 6 and 6:55 a.m., 12:05 and 4:35 p.m. (late service in Spanish)

Saturday: 6 and 6:55 a.m.

Sunday: 6, 8:30 and 10 a.m., 1 and 6 p.m. (first Mass in English, all others Spanish).

* St. Francis Xavier, 222 S. Hewitt St., (213) 626-2279. (No weekday Masses).

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Saturday: 5 p.m.

Sunday: 8:30 (bilingual, Japanese and English) and 10 a.m. (English).


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