Nearly 500 years after the Church of England broke away from Roman Catholicism, a small group of Episcopalians returned to the fold Tuesday during a special Mass at in San Juan Capistrano.
The reunification program was authorized by Pope Benedict, two Episcopal congregations and a married Anglican priest. They were all welcomed into the Catholic faith during the service, which was led by Bishop Tod Brown.
In addition, Anglican priest Andrew Bartus was officially ordained as a Catholic priest Tuesday, even though he is married and has a child. Like others joining the Catholic Church across the nation, his congregation will maintain distinctive elements of Anglican practices.
All told, about 70 members of both congregations were confirmed as Catholics at the ceremony.
“What a joy it is for me to be a part of this holy work today," Msgr. Jeffrey N. Steenson told the crowd. Referring to the New Testament's book of Ephesians, he said the newcomers were “no longer sojourners or travelers … you are citizens, like all the saints, members of God’s household.”
In the audience, Fred and Barbara Wood of Oceanside said they couldn’t wait for the times to catch up to them. They recently left the Episcopal Church earlier – where Fred was a deacon – and joined St. Margaret, a Catholic parish in Oceanside. They made the trip to San Juan because they knew many of the newly confirmed and wanted to show their support, they said.
With everyone together again, it felt “absolutely” like home, Fred Wood said.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI paved the way for reunification with willing Episcopalians. The U.S. Ordinariates were formed at the beginning of the year, and Tuesday’s Mass was the first of its kind for Orange and San Diego counties.
Although the media have reported conservative Episcopalians are joining Catholics as a response to liberal policies, such as allowing gay bishops and female priests, there was no talk of such issues at Mission Basilica on Tuesday.
“I’m here to support my mother,” said Marie McCarron of Vista, who belongs to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Carlsbad. Her mom, Irene Gilmore, had been Episcopalian. “It makes me glad we’re now the same faith. We’re blessed. I feel blessed.”
The coming together was also poignant for Msgr. Arthur Holquin of Mission Basilica.
“I was ordained in 1974, just 10 years after the [ Second Vatican Council],” Holquin said. The great goal of the council was to realize the Lord’s dream in the Last Supper that all might be one.”