The nice lady walked up to us after Mass and asked if this was our first visit to her parish.
Yes, we told her. We’re making our rounds, with plans to attend Mass at every Catholic parish in Orange County –– a total of 60 (not including four Catholic “centers” for the Korean, Vietnamese and Polish communities).
The woman’s name was Theresa.
We had just experienced, for the first time, Mass at St. John Maron, an Eastern Catholic Maronite Church in Orange that caters primarily to the Lebanese community.
The service was celebrated in Syriac, a dialect of Middle Aramaic.
Theresa smiled at us and welcomed us to her church. She told us about an upcoming festival and encouraged us to attend.
It was June 14, 2015.
Our visit to St. Maron came roughly midway through a spiritual journey that started with a daily Mass at St. Edward the Confessor in Dana Point on Dec. 18, 2012 and ended at the Serra Chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano this past Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018.
Yes, we took our time. In one two-year span, we went to only three churches that were new to us.
But we were determined to visit them all, despite some gas-guzzling commutes to far reaches of the county and the strong weekly tug of just settling for the familiar and comfortable (St. Edwards, our registered parish, or other churches near our home bases such as Santiago de Compostela in Lake Forest, St. Nicholas in Laguna Woods and the Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano).
Now that our journey has ended, we asked ourselves two main questions:
We did this because one of us — ahem, that would be Greg — had for many years stopped going to church after growing up Catholic.
We thought: What better way for him to get back into being a practicing Catholic than committing to attending Mass at all O.C. parishes?
We also saw this as a way of getting to know Orange County much better and to experience different cultures, as if we were traveling to foreign lands.
Each parish has its unique character. And in Orange County, Mass regularly is celebrated not only in the “big three” languages of English, Spanish and Vietnamese, but also in Latin, Arabic, Indonesian, Chinese (at Christ Cathedral), Korean and Polish — perhaps more?
We even went to one Mass — on Feb. 17, 2013 at St. Juliana’s Falconieri in Fullerton — that had a sign language interpreter for deaf congregants.
What did we learn?
Orange County has an abundance of cultural diversity. One of the best ways to realize and experience this is to visit its churches.
For example, every second and fourth Sunday at St. Philip Benizi in Fullerton, Indonesians from throughout Orange County gather at the 4:30 p.m. Mass not only to worship, but afterward to enjoy a feast of Indonesian food in the parish multi-purpose room.
Indonesian edibles also are sold. We scored some tasty hot sauce.
And don’t miss Palm Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Santa Ana for their ornately designed palms, available for a modest fee and affixed with stickers of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and other saints.
It’s the first question people ask us when they learn we’ve been to all of O.C.’s Catholic churches:
What were your favorites?
That’s a tricky and highly subjective game to play, but standouts include the beautiful St. Boniface in Anaheim and equally majestic Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Habra; the gorgeous roses and other landscaping at Santa Clara de Asis in Yorba Linda; St. Joseph in Santa Ana, with its lovely wooden ceiling beams and real feeling of history; St. Catherine of Siena in Laguna Beach; Latin Mass at St. Michael’s Abbey in Trabuco Canyon, soon to relocate to Silverado Canyon; and, of course, the special beauty of the Mission Basilica, as well as Serra Chapel, in San Juan Capistrano.
If you like Mexican food, go to Mass at St. Martin de Porres in Yorba Linda and then have lunch at Joaquin’s. You’ll be able to feed off the “El Stupido” burrito for days.
On a more profound note, needs within our Catholic community abound. Among several parishes currently in need of funds to improve their facilities are Christ our Savior in Santa Ana and St. Justin Martyr in Anaheim.
Catholicism is alive and well in Orange County. It was very heartening to see even huge churches like Our Lady of the Pillar in Santa Ana packed for a Sunday Mass, with many young people in attendance.
Especially during these cynical times, it’s nice to know there are so many people of faith out there — so many good people in the community.
It may be hard to see sometimes, but Christ is alive every day and everywhere in Orange County, in many ways.
This realization is, perhaps, the lasting gift of our journey.