Faiths’ new starts and teamwork mark 2008

When religion made news in California this year -- and it did frequently -- much of that news involved conflict.

Religious leaders of various faiths squared off on Proposition 8, the successful statewide initiative to ban gay marriage. Rifts also continued in the Episcopal Church, largely prompted by differing views on the role of gays and lesbians in church life.

But 2008 was also a time for new beginnings and of faiths coming together. As the year comes to a close, let’s review a few of them.

Places of worship


A stunning new cathedral -- the Cathedral of Christ the Light -- was dedicated Sept. 25 in Oakland. The cathedral, sheathed in gleaming glass, glows at night beside Lake Merritt.

Among its features is a 58-foot image of Christ created by 94,000 perforations in aluminum panels above the altar. The image was based on a sculpture at Chartres Cathedral in France.

The Oakland cathedral seats 1,350 people for services and is part of a $190-million complex. Among the site’s more unusual, and controversial, features is a garden dedicated to victims of clergy sexual abuse. Amid hedges and wooden benches is a dedication: “To those innocents sexually abused by members of the clergy. We remember, and we affirm: Never again.”

A few weeks after the cathedral’s opening, the second Jain temple in the state was dedicated in Buena Park. Members of the faith and scholars traveled from across the U.S. and India to participate in 11 days of ceremonies to celebrate the opening of the Jain Center of Southern California.

The $6-million temple was the product of more than a decade of planning and represents an even longer journey for Jains in California. Thirty years ago, dozens of worshipers met for prayers at a tiny house in Cerritos. Temple officials say the new center serves 1,000 families.

Jains are a small but influential religious minority in India and believe that salvation comes through leading simple, nonviolent lives.

Another worship center, this one dedicated to Buddhism, is taking shape near the desert town of Adelanto. In May, construction crews put finishing touches on the first phase of the project, which features a 24-foot statue of a saint said to have miraculous healing powers.

The striking white marble statue of Quan yin is surrounded by flat and seemingly endless desert. The project was the brainchild of a 67-year-old monk, Thich Dang “Tom” Phap, who lived near the statue in a trailer and also planned to open a meditation center.


“We build what we can afford,” he told The Times. “Right now, we have about $400,000. We need $12 million. But we have faith, yes!”

New priests

Beginnings of a different sort took place in May, when about 20 men joined the priesthood in joyful and solemn ceremonies throughout Southern California.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles celebrated the ordination of 12 men, the largest ordination class since 1998, when 14 took vows. The Diocese of San Bernardino, which had ordained only seven priests in the previous 10 years, added six more.


That same month, two men joined the priesthood in the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America. The ordinations, conducted in Los Angeles, were the first in the diocese in a decade because many priests serving in the region come from overseas.

Interfaith efforts

Southern California has long been home to a variety of interfaith efforts, and that continued in 2008. In November, Jews and Muslims participated in a national “twinning campaign” to create mosque-synagogue partnerships to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

The seeds for the project were planted in November 2007 in New York, where Jewish and Muslim leaders met to discuss how to forge stronger ties between their communities. They decided to pair mosques and synagogues, and to their surprise and delight, about 100 congregations signed up.


Among those participating in Southern California are Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City. At a ceremony held at Temple Emanuel to kick off the campaign, Rabbi Marc Schneier said, “Jews and Muslims, as the children of Abraham, not only do we share a common faith, but we share a common fate.”

Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which coordinated the interfaith effort with help from the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the World Jewish Congress.

A far different and certainly much wetter interfaith effort occurred in Huntington Beach.

In October, the beach became a makeshift place of worship as about 400 people -- Catholics, Jews and Muslims -- gathered for a “blessing of the waves.” The service was sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and directed by a pair of surf-loving priests.


Meeting the pope

OK, it wasn’t a new beginning or an interfaith effort, but it was unexpected. Armando Cervantes, who directs youth and young adult ministry programs for the Diocese of Orange, was one of 12 young adults from across the globe who had a private lunch with Pope Benedict XVI during his July visit to Australia for World Youth Day.

The diners brought gifts reflecting their home countries, so Cervantes’ basket included a book of blessings from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Two other gifts reflected Orange County roots: an Angels visor and a Mickey Mouse hat embroidered with the name Benedict XVI.