Thousands pack Ala Moana for 2012 Lantern Floating ceremony

Courtesy: Janelle Orth
Courtesy: Janelle Orth

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Roughly 40,000 people packed Ala Moana Beach Park for the 14th annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony. With a glorious sunset in the distance, thousands of glowing lanterns gently drifted into the ocean. Each one carried special messages from the heart.

"I would always want to find different ways in honoring my donor since I'm a transplant patient and I think this one would spiritually be a perfect healing," said Waipahu resident Cherilyn Rabago.

Rabago, 35, received a kidney and a pancreas from Hilo donor Dusty Rapoza.

"I just want to honor and keep his legacy alive," said Rabago. "I mean, 'thank you' is never enough. He gave me a second chance to be there for my son."

Rabago joined thousands of people lining the shore at Ala Moana Beach Park. The first Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony took place in 1999. Now the event attracts residents as well as visitors from all over the world.

"Over the years, lantern floating has grown and it's almost a dream come true," said Roy Ho, executive director of the Na Lei Aloha Foundation.

Handwritten messages decorated 3,500 lanterns. Marine Robert Lemont decided to try the Memorial Day tradition to honor two friends killed in Afghanistan and his grandmother.

"Just to look back on the people that we've lost and just overall remember them. It's good to look back on the memories," said Lemont.

The ceremony featured a service led by the head of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order, but everyone was welcome. Punchbowl resident Jackie Kawano hoped the experience would leave a lasting impression on her children.

"It's really moving. It's so emotional. I can't even describe it. But it's also healing. I guess part of the journey of grief," Kawano said.

Despite their personal pain, many found peace and hope surrounded by others also remembering their loved ones.

After the ceremony, the lanterns are collected, cleaned, and stored for next year.

The rebroadcast will be from 6 p.m. to 7p.m. on Saturday, June 2 on KGMB.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.