Convention Insider

A Tour Through Time

Tracking the religious history of Orange County

Anaheim, home to Disney Land, is billed as “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Over the last few days, delegates and their families have taken advantage of their proximity to the famed theme park with special package deals for convention attendees. But they have also taken special tours to explore the Catholic history of the area, which began with the missionary work of Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan who bravely set out from Mexico to explore Upper California and bring the people living there into the Catholic faith.

One tour encompassed both the foundations and the future of the Church in Orange County, visiting Mission San Juan Capistrano, which was founded in 1776 by Blessed Junipero, and the modern Crystal Cathedral, which the Diocese of Orange recently purchased from a religious group to convert into Christ Cathedral.

The Crystal Cathedral, in Garden Grove, is well-known as the former spiritual home of the Rev. Robert Schuller, a televangelist with a large following for many years. The grounds of the complex are massive and include many features not ordinarily associated with Protestantism, such as outdoor statues depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd and walking on the water, and depictions of other holy people from the Bible.

The cathedral itself is a glittering glass structure of 12,000 panes that reflect at different angles the natural elements and reveals some of the sacred images inside. A 16,000-pipe organ and a soaring 12-story tower are two of the most impressive features.

The Diocese of Orange, which is growing rapidly, with some 1.2 million Catholics presently, purchased the church and the grounds to serve as the new cathedral. The Bishop is Tod D. Brown, a Knight of Columbus for the past 40 years.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is a study in the old and the more ancient. Famous for the swallows that flock to the Mission around the feast of St. Joseph (March 19) and fly south around the feast of St. John Capistrano (October 23), the mission is still a popular stopping place for tourists. Most of the original Mission complex has fallen into ruin, or was destroyed by earthquakes, but there are some sections of the original structures. San Juan Capistrano grew into a thriving city in the early 19th century, with Indians and Spaniards living in what become known as the “jewel” of the system of 21 missions along the California coast.

The displays show both the sacred and the secular, with religious items and military artifacts, since the mission needed to defend itself from hostile tribes. The four original Mission bells served both purposes, calling people to prayer and also warning them of danger. The centerpiece is a statue of Blessed Junipero Serra welcoming an Indian and seeking to establish peace under Christ in the Missions he established.