THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Catholics stage first event at Crystal Cathedral
By ROXANA KOPETMAN
GARDEN GROVE – The Crystal Cathedral sanctuary known around the world for its flying angels and messages of positive thinking on Wednesday became a place of prayer for its new owners: Orange County's Catholics.
More than 1,200 Catholics filled the cathedral for the first Roman Catholic event held in the Protestant megachurch since the campus was bought by the Diocese of Orange in a court-ordered bankruptcy sale.
Congregants listened to chanting Carmelite nuns and recited a rosary.
They prayed in front of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.
And they heard messages from priests and a bishop.
"This is an example of what future events and gatherings can be like – the space, the spirit, the message," the Rev. Christopher Smith said following the prayer breakfast.
Smith will lead the transformation of the Crystal Cathedral into a Catholic place of worship the diocese will rename Christ Cathedral. The Crystal Cathedral Ministries will stay on the campus until June, when it will transfer to the nearby St. Callistus Catholic Church under an arrangement with the diocese.
On Wednesday, the diocese rented the facility for the morning and brought in a large wooden crucifix and other accoutrements to give the cathedral a more Catholic feel.
Plans to renovate the cathedral are expected to begin next summer. On Wednesday, leaders announced the diocese's first capital campaign– a drive to raise $100 million, half of it to renovate and support the future Christ Cathedral. Until then, the Catholics cannot celebrate Mass in the stunning glass-paneled church because the cathedral is not yet a consecrated place, said Mick Fern, one of the event's organizers.
Instead, Catholic leaders held a prayer service before their seventh annual Orange County Catholic Prayer Breakfast, which kicked off before sunrise.
Outside, Catholic high-school girls wearing plaid skirts and red or purple sweaters set out the breakfast-in-a-box for the crowd, the largest attendance in this event's history.
Inside, Orange County Bishop Tod D. Brown, who is in Rome, addressed the congregants on a video. He called the future move to the cathedral "a historic moment for our diocese" and said he expects the renovations to be done by 2015.
Brown also encouraged Catholics to defend their religious freedoms, particularly following a federal mandate earlier this year that health insurance coverage must include contraceptives. The Obama administration allowed a religious exemption for church organizations. Meanwhile, Christian colleges, charities and hospitals would not be required to pay for contraceptives for employees but their insurance companies have to pick up the tab.
The issue pitted those who frame the issue as one that concerns mostly women's health against those, including Catholic leaders, who see it as an infringement on religious freedom.
Guest speaker George Weigel, a senior fellow of the conservative Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, spoke about "aggressive secularism" and "a new assault" on religious freedoms. He cited several examples, including the federal mandate regarding health insurance coverage of contraceptives and challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as the legal union of one man to one woman.
While never naming presidential candidates or political parties, Weigel's message was clear: vote Republican in this next presidential election and encourage your friends to do the same.
Meanwhile, Smith, the priest who will be become the future Christ Cathedral's rector, told the group that the cathedral will become a center for Catholic worship, an outreach center to the poor and "a place of orthodoxy."
Near the speakers, front center in the sanctuary, were two chairs, one slightly bigger. The larger chair was symbolic of what's to come: a cathedra, or bishop's chair, that will hold a spot of prominence in the church by 2015.
The new Catholic cathedral and its 34-acre campus will not only be a place of worship but a Christian cultural destination for others across the country, leaders said.
"Our future Christ Cathedral," Smith said, "holds the possibility for us to be the church at its best."