SAN DIEGO — As luck would have it, two shrines for many Californians ended up within walking distance of each other.
One shrine is Qualcomm Stadium, where the San Diego Chargers play football.
I’m sitting in the other — the little mission basilica of San Diego de Alcala, the oldest church in the state of California.
The church is quaint, with a whitewashed adobe facade that looks like a slice of Wonder Bread with the crust cut off.
But for California Catholics, the “wonder bread” is all inside, where communion is still offered and masses are said.
The church was built in 1769 — a century before the driving of the Golden Spike and several years before the American Revolutionary War.
Its history could fill books. In fact, it does.
The Mormon Battalion was quartered here for a spell. The LDS soldiers helped refurbish the place and built a second level to the church. At one point the mission was home to 10,000 head of cattle, 20,000 sheep and 1,250 horses.
The structure was rebuilt several times. But it has stood the test of time.
It’s an amazing place. I think of the basilica as the site of three miracles.
The first is that the church is still here after 244 years.
The second miracle is it still functions as a church, not a museum.
And the third miracle is that what was taught here almost 250 years ago is taught here today, the same way, in the same words.
What other discipline can claim such a thing?
Science today is a world away from 1769. So are geography, politics, history and even literature.
But as the universe has whirled and altered around it, Christianity has kept its essence. And, to my mind, that has given the Western World some continuity, a thread that runs through our civilization like a strand through pearls, holding them together. Without that thread, we likely would have burst into hand grenade fragments long ago.
The mission basilica lives on after 244 years.
As for that other shrine, the stadium, it is massive, imposing and was hideously expensive to build.
I give it three, maybe four decades before it goes into the dustbin of history.
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