I recently ventured into Los Angeles to delve into some of the city’s belongings that are actually not connected with the world of cinema. My Religion and the City class participated in a walking tour that encompassed short visits to Union Station, skid row and the new Catholic Cathedral. Union Station had its interesting points. And skid row definitely seized my utmost attention, with the litter-caked sidewalks, the unwelcoming glances of those down on their luck that seemed to say, “I am not your spectacle,” the wholesale stores struggling to turn even the most minuscule profit, the shirtless man lying on the corner, sucking on an empty bottle of Jack Daniels and the line of homeless people outside the Midnight Mission, hugging everything they own, waiting to receive sustenance.
The scene was heartbreaking. So many people lost, with nowhere to go. But this was not what affected me most on our city walk. Although it did wrench my heart, one instance proved to be more imprinting than anything I saw on skid row. When we entered the new Los Angeles Cathedral, I did not know what to expect. As a Catholic, I felt like I was fulfilling some sort of pilgrimage to the new Los Angeles area mecca.
Upon entering the sanctuary, the magnificence was nearly overwhelming. Entering through the side, looking to my right, I was in complete awe of the organ at the Cathedral. Boasting some pipework dating back to 1929, the organ’s facade includes pipes weighing up to 1,300 pounds and measuring up to 32 feet long. There are also 16 foot, 8 foot and 4 foot horizontal trumpets protruding forward, giving the gargantuan structure a feeling of depth. In sum, the massive pipe organ; the Opus 75, is 80 feet tall, 28 feet across at its widest and weighs 45 tons: undoubtedly august. But this monstrosity was not what I remember the most. Walking toward the crucifix, located at the center of the altar in the front of the church, one may feel trite, simply because you are dwarfed by your surroundings. The Cathedral is at least 100 feet tall, and the sanctuary extends back almost endlessly. To see the back of the church in any detail, I had to squint my eyes and crane my neck. People walked around in small groups, observing this massive spectacle erected before them. They conserved quietly and reverently, stopping every once in a while to look up and inhale the awe-inspiring architecture of one of God’s newest hangouts. Tour groups of elderly parishioners of other churches in the area were bused in to experience this new place of worship. After being paraded through the entire Cathedral, the groups were shuffled toward the last stops on their tour: the gift shop and cafeteria.
Still one instance sticks out in my recollections. When I was on the altar, reverently observing the crucifix, an elderly African-American woman stood there, alone, with her eyes closed, praying.
This hit me. Among everything else going on: this woman took me back to what this house really meant. It is a place to worship. Even though all the tours and the architectural gawkers can distract us from this idea, it remains true.
The new Cathedral is beautiful. It deserves to be experienced by all, but that’s not its only purpose. It is not simply a new architectural spectacle. It is a place to go and feel the presence of God. This woman reminded me of this. She was not there to observe the hand-woven tapestries, the humongous organ or the nearly sky-scraping ceiling. She was there to pray, to worship, and her presence hit me harder than anything else I saw that day.
Matt Paulson, a sophomore journalism major, is sports editor of the Campus Times. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.