St. Timothy Catholic Church in Laguna Niguel hosted Orange County’s 8th annual Homeless Persons’ Inter-Religious Memorial Service on Dec. 21.
One by one, names were read, and candles were carried up to black-clad tables fronting the altar of the dimly lit sanctuary. Each candle represented a life lost on the streets from Orange County’s unhoused population in 2023.
But the families, friends, volunteers and people of all faiths who came out on that rainy night were not enough to place a candle for all 511 who died; participants had to go back, again and again, while the hundreds of names were read.
“The number this year got to me,” said St. Timothy parishioner Tom Sales. “There were 511. This is a wealthy area of the country. There shouldn’t be that many people on the streets. We should be able to do better.”
Symbolically, the evening was the winter solstice — the longest night of the year. To read all 511 names took 39 minutes.
The service was organized by the Diocese of Orange, St. Timothy Catholic Church, Our Father’s Table, the Knights of Columbus St. Timothy Council No. 128341, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, Volunteer Network OC and the Orange County Interfaith Network.
“In many cases this service will be the only commemoration of their lives,” said Mike Valerio, deputy grand knight of St. Timothy’s Knights of Columbus council. “Let us become the voice of those that are not heard or seen by most of our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness. With this memorial, we say that their lives matter and we mourn their passing.”
Orange County’s service is a localized version of a national event that started in 1990 to honor those who have died on the streets each year, said Gina Marie Seriel, founder and executive director of Our Father’s Table, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the cycle of chronic homelessness. Orange County’s service began in 2016 with 193 names, Seriel said, and unfortunately, this year’s deaths were the highest.
“Some of us are still grieving,” said Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen. “Some of us are still in pain with the loss. “Some of us are still struggling with the departure of loved ones. But this evening is a very, very special way we remember our homeless brothers and sisters. We remember them by calling their name, and when we remember them, we make them alive.”
The inter-religious service started with the Knights of Columbus Color Corps standing at attention, swords raised, as the interfaith leaders from across the county walked up to the altar to take their seats. Bishop Nguyen was joined by Rabbi Marcia Tilchin; Islamic Shura Council of Southern California Chairman Dr. Ahmed Soboh; Lutheran Church of the Cross senior pastor Paul Finley; Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East Rev. Fr. Ashur Elkhoury; Ismail Demirkan of the Pacifica Institute; pastor James Davis, director of Pastoral Training of Asia; Vickie Cunniff, communication specialist with the Laguna Niguel Stake, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Christian Scientist Anne Cooling; and Maneck Bhujwala, a Zoroastrian mobedyar (priest).
BISHOP THANH THAI NGUYEN ADDRESSES ATTENDEES OF THE 8TH ANNUAL HOMELESS PERSONS’ INTERRELIGIOUS MEMORIAL SERVICE HELD ON DEC. 21 AT ST. TIMOTHY CATHOLIC CHURCH IN LAGUNA NIGUEL.
In his remarks, Finley pointed out that the problem of homelessness is getting worse. He noted that all faiths can agree that something needs to be done for those who will die on the streets between this year’s service and next year’s.
“For every name we recognize here tonight, there are easily a hundred times more who are still suffering even though they may not have died,” Finley said. “Let’s not merely continue to, year to year, remember those who have died, but just be inspired by their memory to work to make a world where these services will no longer be necessary someday.”