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Mass Celebrated in California Church Destroyed by Fire

Devoted Christians attended Mass on July 12 at a church in California that was destroyed by a massive fire the previous day.

Practicing physical distancing, parishioners heard Mass in San Gabriel Mission despite the heavy damage in the church’s rooftop and interior.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles celebrated Mass on Sunday. “This fire changes nothing,” he said during his homily. “Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the church in Los Angeles, the place from which the gospel still goes forth.”

Much of the church’s valued possessions, including paintings and other artifacts were spared from the fire. The items had been removed as part of renovations for the church’s upcoming 250th anniversary celebration, reports Crux Now.

Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the church in Los Angeles, the place from which the gospel still goes forth. —Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles

However, Terri Huerta, a spokesperson for the San Gabriel Mission, disclosed that the fire destroyed the reredos (an ornamental screen behind the altar) and some religious statues.

“There are so many people that have such great connections here, generations of families,” Huerta said. “So many people came and cried with us. They prayed with us. They’re just heartbroken like we are.”

A fire restoration fund was set up to help restore the historic San Gabriel Mission.

Some parishioners rushed to the church after hearing about the incident. One of the worshipers, Liccia Beck, arrived early to pray. “I’m hoping that more people will show up throughout the day,” she said. “We need to pray for our churches and our people that they’re safe.”

The fire started early Saturday morning. Firefighters came to the church at 4 a.m. but was forced to retreat after the flames burned the roofing and other structural materials began to fall.

Authorities are investigating the cause of the fire. One angle they are looking at is the destruction of monuments of Junipero Serra, the Spanish priest who founded the California mission system.

Protesters recently took down Serra statues in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento. The controversial saint is viewed by many as a symbol of oppression who enslaved Native Americans. San Gabriel Mission is the fourth in a series of mission founded by Serra.

Archbishop Jose Gomez condemned people who “slander” St. Junipero Serra’s name. In his column in Angelus News, the cleric wrote: “The real St. Junipero fought a colonial system where natives were regarded as ‘barbarians’ and ‘savages,’ whose only value was to serve the appetites of the white man. For St. Junipero, this colonial ideology was a blasphemy against the God who has ‘created (all men and women) and redeemed them with the most precious blood of his Son’.”

Gomez believed that protesters do not know the facts about Serra’s life. He explained that Serra learned the languages and ancient customs of Native Americans. “St. Junipero came not to conquer, he came to be a brother,” he wrote.

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