Tuesday, December 12, 2006

San Juan Capistrano California Mission puts a price on prayer

The Orange County Register reported today that:

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – Susan Hibbert wanted to light a candle and say a prayer Sunday at the Mission San Juan Capistrano's Serra Chapel for her husband, a U.S. Army medic soon to be deployed in Iraq.

But she was stunned when at the ticket window she was asked to pony up $7, the same entry fee the mission charges tourists who visit the historic landmark.

"I was totally shocked," said Hibbert, 41, of Mission Viejo, who has prayed at the chapel without being charged and has been part of the parish at the basilica next door for years.

"I just turned around and walked out. I was like, 'How can you charge somebody for just praying?' I thought it was ridiculous."

Reversing a longstanding policy, the mission earlier this year began charging $7 to those who want to pray at its intimate Serra Chapel.

The management says the mission is a unique entity, one that needs to be preserved for generations and not just a place of worship. While part of the Catholic Diocese of Orange, the mission does not get any money from it and has been trying to raise funds for preservation.

Officials say that auditors saw the old policy as problematic. Previously, a worshipper would be given a time-stamped slip, which they would return upon leaving. If they exceeded about 15 minutes allotted to pray, they could then be charged the full $7 entry fee.

But the old policy left the cash register prone to employee theft and it was tough to enforce, said Mechelle Lawrence, mission executive director. Tourists in line also asked to get in for free and many who said they were going simply to pray would linger or never return the entry slip, she said.

"Does Disneyland let everybody come in because everyone wants to shop at their stores?" Lawrence asked. "It's a hard thing to implement … The mission is at a crossroads: It has one foot stuck in the past but it lives in a modern world and living in the modern world puts pressure on people who want to save it."

Last week, a meeting between the management and about a dozen Juaneño members – some of whom sought access to the mission grounds for free because their ancestors helped build it – on Monday resulted in a new program granting the Juaneño Indians free access.

"There never has been any program to recognize the Juaneños in that way," Lawrence said. "Seems like a very simple, kind gesture to implement."

The policy affecting other members of the public, however, still stands.

The complete story may be found here:


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