A pilgrim from the Diocese of Phoenix’s Friends of the Cathedral pilgrimage to California prays before the sanctuary of the historic San Juan Capistrano Mission in San Juan Capistrano June 22. The historic mission is the only surviving church where St. Junípero Serra celebrate Mass. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

California pilgrimage Day 3: June 22

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — As we bed down for the night, we look back on a day filled with contrasting images that spoke to our sense of worship. We were 13 stories above the suburbs in Orange County. We walked among the colorful gardens surrounding one of California’s most historic Catholic missions. We knelt in silent prayer and meditation in the very chapel where St. Junípero Serra celebrated Mass more than 200 years ago. And, we shared our impressions of the day and deepened our fellowship with one another during dinner overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

“It was a beautiful day. This (pilgrimage) has been such a blessing,” smiled Angela Schellenberger, a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle in central Phoenix.

Chapel of a Saint

“The (Serra) Chapel was so humble,” continued Schellenberger, referring to the chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, and about five miles inland from the Pacific Coast, San Juan Capistrano is named for St. Giovanni di Capistrano, an Italian saint. One of 21 California missions and among the nine St. Serra founded, it is also the only California Mission church that has survived in which St. Serra celebrated Mass, doing so in 1783, a year before he died. That distinction has caused the mission to sometimes be referred to as “The Jewel of the California Missions.”

“You could feel the presence of Serra,” said Thomas Shellenberger, Angela’s husband.

Inside the chapel, as many of us prayed, some noticed a man and woman wheel in a disabled child and put their arms around him, offering silent meditation.

“It was just a beautiful image of a family together,” recalled Fr. John Lankeit, rector of the Diocese of Phoenix’s Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.

Pilgrims with the Diocese of Phoenix’s Friends of the Cathedral pilgrimage to California visited the Diocese of Orange’s Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove June 22. The former Crystal Cathedral was established by the late Rev. Robert Schuller, a Protestant televangelist, in 1980, before it was purchased by the diocese in 2012. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)
A statue of Jesus sits in the 13th floor chapel at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. Pilgrims with the Diocese of Phoenix’s Friends of the Cathedral pilgrimage to California attended Mass in the chapel June 22. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Catholicizing an American religious landmark

The simple adobe-walled church stood in dramatic contrast to our stop only hours earlier.

As we rode elevator to the 13th and highest floor of the Tower of Hope on the Diocese of Orange’s Christ Cathedral Campus, we gazed out over the landscape dominated by the completely glass-panel-enclosed Christ Cathedral, the former Crystal Cathedral made world-famous by the late Rev. Robert Schuller, the Protestant televangelist and founder of the “Hour of Power” broadcast.

Purchased by the Diocese of Orange in 2012 from the financially ailing Schuller organization, the cathedral has been undergoing a massive renovation to transform it into a Catholic house of worship and center of spiritual life for the county’s 1.6 million Catholics.

During a tour, project manager Eric Flynn outlined some of the changes, including brand-new steel festal doors, a stone altar and a 1,000-pound Crux Gemmata — or crucifix, as well as a baptismal font and a tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament.

A number of pilgrims hailed the revisions.

“I think they did an effective job; just the whole ambience works,” noted Phil Lester, business manager for Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral and a board member with the Friends of the Cathedral, the support organization that is co-sponsoring the pilgrimage.

“It’s magnificent,” added Gail Ratti-Curran, parishioner at Most Holy Trinity in Phoenix.

The tour continued amid the sounds of hammers pounding away and occasional shouts of directions from construction personnel, who are scurrying to wrap up the project by its planned July 17 completion and dedication.

Our group would have been too small for a Mass inside the 78,397-square-foot cathedral. Instead, we nearly filled the small chapel on the Tower of Hope’s glass-enclosed 13th floor overlooking the campus below.

Bishop Kevin W. Vann (right) of the Diocese of Orange welcomes Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and pilgrims from the Diocese of Phoenix’s Friends of the Cathedral pilgrimage to California to his diocese’s Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove June 22. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

On the feast day of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, Bishop Olmsted spoke in his homily of More’s refusal to abandon the teachings of his faith despite a threat of execution by the king of England.

As More approached death by beheading, he is quoted as saying, “I go as the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”

“Faith is being ready to say each day, ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’” Bishop Olmsted said. “This is how St. Thomas More was a ‘Man for All Seasons,’” he added, referencing the famous play based on the martyr’s life.

So it was that our day began with a message of the saints to contemplate as we witnessed modern architectural splendor and humble, simple worship. God was truly present in all these graces, and as the sun set on our evening meal, we looked back with a grateful spirit and toward our trip home in the morning.