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Memorial Service at Garden Grove’s Christ Cathedral lights candles for the homeless

Volunteers placed 403 candles, each one symbolizing a homeless person who died in the streets of Orange County in 2021.
Volunteers placed 403 candles, each one symbolizing a homeless person who died in the streets of Orange County in 2021, in front of the Christ Cathedral altar Tuesday night during the sixth annual Homeless Persons’ Interreligious Memorial Service. The service was organized by the Diocese of Orange, Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, HomeAid Orange County, Our Father’s Table and the Orange County Interfaith Network.
(Courtesy of Steven Georges, Diocese of Orange)

The candlelight procession at Christ Cathedral on Wednesday evening shed light on the lives of individuals who may not have had much visibility during their lifetimes.

“We gather to honor those who have died while living without a place to call home,” said the Very Rev. Christopher H. Smith, Episcopal Vicar and Rector of Christ Cathedral.

Orange County’s sixth annual Homeless Persons’ Interreligious Memorial Service was held at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove on Tuesday, honoring the lives of those individuals experiencing homelessness who have died on the streets from illness, exposure or violence.

“They are our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors. In many ways this service will be the only commemoration of some peoples lives,” Rev. Smith said. “Let us become the voice for those that are not heard or seen, our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness. With this memorial we say, their lives mattered and we mourn their deaths.”

The service included a group of speakers representing Orange County’s diverse religious organizations, including Bishop Kevin Vann, bishop of the Diocese of Orange; the Rev. Dr. Ralph E. Williamson, senior pastor at Christ Our Redeemer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Irvine; Rabbi Linda Seidman, Orange County community rabbi; Pastor Leland Lantz, Lutheran Church of the Cross in Laguna Woods and Aliso Viejo; Dr. Ding-Jo Currie, Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Huntington Beach; Andrew Nelson, interfaith relations, Orange County for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Rev. Fr. Ashur Elkhoury, St. Paul Assyrian Church in Anaheim and Rabbi Marcia Tilchin, founder of the Jewish Collaborative of Orange County.

Four hundred and three names were read during the service, identifying the unhoused found dead in Orange County in 2021. A candle was lit for each name as well, with volunteers walking each candle to a large table, filling it with light.

Volunteers placed 403 candles, each one symbolizing a homeless person who died in the streets of Orange County in 2021
Volunteers placed 403 candles, each one symbolizing a homeless person who died in the streets of Orange County in 2021, in front of the Christ Cathedral altar Tuesday night during the sixth annual Homeless Persons’ Interreligious Memorial Service. The service, symbolically, takes place on the first day of winter, which is the longest night of the year.
(Courtesy of Steven Georges, Diocese of Orange
)

Names came from the Orange County coroner’s office records, which listed more homeless deaths this year than last year’s 340.

“I had the privilege of being with one of the members of our church who passed away last night. That doesn’t happen real often that I get to be there to hold their hands as they pass on to life eternal, ” said Pastor Lantz. “That person was surrounded by family and friends by their bedside. It is hard for me to imagine dying alone, or on the streets.”

Pastor Leland Lantz, of the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Aliso Viejo and Laguna Woods
Pastor Leland Lantz, of the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Aliso Viejo and Laguna Woods, provides remarks during the sixth annual Homeless Persons’ Interreligious Memorial Service, held Tuesday at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove.
(Courtesy of Steven Georges, Diocese of Orange)

The memorial service, organized by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which is based at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, HomeAid Orange County, Our Father’s Table and the Orange County Interfaith Network, takes place each year on the winter solstice, which is the first day of winter and the longest night of the year.

The service taking place on the solstice also holds special symbolism, as Pastor Lantz mentioned, because it is close to the Christian holiday of Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus.

“Luke 2:7 says there was no room for them in the inn, we know that passage as we draw near to Christmas; God knows what it is like to not have a home,” Pastor Lantz said.

This annual service is a localized version of the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, which was founded by the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless founded in 1990.

The event was live streamed and is available to view on the Diocese of Orange’s social media channels. Visit mass.christcathedralcalifornia.org for more information.

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