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St. John of the Cross

Denomination: Roman Catholic

Address: 8086 Broadway, Lemon Grove, 619-466-3209

Founded locally: 1959

Senior pastor: Edward Brockhaus

Congregation size: 10,000

Staff size: 20

Sunday school enrollment: 800

Annual budget: can't tell me

Weekly giving: can't tell me

Singles program: no

Dress: casual to dressy

Diversity: diverse

Sunday worship: 7:00 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. (Spanish)

Length of reviewed service: 1 hour

Website: http://www.stjohncross.org

"The Catholic Church has departed from the truth and is now an apostasy! The entire denomination from the Pope to the youngest member, if they stay Catholic, will die and go to hell. The Catholic Church has completely departed from the Christian faith and is a wicked tradition. If you are Catholic you are going to burn in hell," shouted Tom Elwood, as people arrived to attend Mass at St. John of the Cross. Elwood held a sign that read "God Kills, Repent" on one side and "Jesus Caused 9/11" on the other. Two men walked over to confront Elwood and request he leave. Elwood shouted louder, "You are going to burn in the lake of fire if you don't leave the Catholic Church." One of the men became angry and shouted that Elwood wasn't wanted there and told him to leave. After the men walked away, Elwood said, "See how he got irate, it is because he hates God and God hates him." Elwood handed me a pamphlet put out by A True Church ( http://www.atruechurch.com). He said he drove down from Los Angeles to picket the church.

I attended St. John's Divine Mercy Mass where congregants can receive Plenary Indulgence for sins already forgiven. Inside the nave, a large stepped baptistery and fountain contained holy water. Worshippers dipped their hands into this water and blessed themselves. White walls soar upward to stained-glass windows. Several hundred parishioners filled the white-oak pews for the 8:30 a.m. service.

The songs for Mass included "We Walk By Faith," "We Remember," and "Behold the Lamb," led by a group of singers, a piano, drums, and violin. Father Alex Aquino's sermon was about Doubting Thomas. "Faith is more difficult in our age. Mystery is on its way out. Who could blame Thomas for not believing Jesus had rose from the dead until he had seen the Lord," said Father Aquino in a heavily accented English. "Thomas echoes moments of our own religion. We have questions about the authority of the Pope, our Bishops, and the Church. We have moments of time when we are in crisis of darkness. Believing challenges us to change our lives and attitudes. Lack of fervor, especially for Catholics, may be the lack of sight of the moments in our lives when all else fails, except our faith in the Lord."

After Mass, many people refused to respond to my questions. Others, after I asked a question, would not provide an answer.

I asked Mary Jones about the legacy of John Paul II. "John Paul will be remembered for going to all the nations and supporting peace. John Paul was such a great man. He was one of the best Popes." Jones said she was nervous because there was no acting Pope.

Sacristan Craig Isley said, "John Paul will be remembered for his work with Russia, the Berlin Wall, helping end the Cold War and opening dialogue." Isley said John Paul II helped the Catholic Church connect with the Jews. "The Jews, through their own faith are saved," said Isley when asked if faith in Jesus was necessary for salvation. "I think just seeing Jesus as a prophet is good enough. That and if they go around and be a good person. This has a lot to do with [salvation]."

Ana Ingued, the church receptionist, spoke about the Catholic Church after John Paul II's death. "I see the Church flowing on just fine. It may open up a little as times are changing. For example, working with homosexuals and learning more about their community," said Ingued. I asked if she thinks they should allow homosexual marriage in the Catholic Church. "No. I do not support this."

"[John Paul II] led an ecumenical movement," said Deacon Martin Villafaña. "We are now closer with other denominations and faiths. For example, with the Jews and Muslims, there is a mutual respect with each other. We no longer are attacking each other; we are trying to all be one." I asked Villafaña if he had a Jewish friend if he would want that friend to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. "We are not going to discuss this. It doesn't matter who is right or wrong. I just attended a meeting of interfaith leaders. We have a good friendship with them. We have the same parents, in Abraham. Our faiths share the same origins." I asked Villafaña if people can be saved if they don't believe in Jesus Christ as God. "I think so. There are many ways to be saved. Maybe in their own way they'll be saved."

I spoke to Father Aquino who moved here several years ago from the Philippines. "In the Philippines, the Church is more traditional and conservative. In America, there is more of a liberal belief in the Catholic Church. I think people call them Cafeteria Catholics. These people take from the Church what is good for them and if it isn't good, they discard it," said Aquino. "For example, the Church in the Philippines teaches respect for human life. Here, a lot of Catholics go out and get abortions."

I asked Father Aquino what happens after a person dies? "They will have life after death. They go to be with God." I asked Aquino what happens to people from other faiths after they die. "This is between a person and God," Aquino replied.

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agaphtos April 17, 2008 @ 12:48 a.m.

I attended St. John's when I was a child. I wasn't saved then but I did experience strong "religious feeling". I sang in the Holy Childhood Choir and was positively in awe of the sounds of the organ and of our voices as they rang in the vaults of the sanctuary.

Reading this post, I am amazed at what you quoted Deacon Martin Villafana as having said: "I think [people can be saved if they don't believe in Jesus Christ as God]. There are many ways to be saved. Maybe in their own way they'll be saved." This is a statement that no literate Christian would make. Jesus was very clear when He said, "I AM The Way, The Truth and The Life; no one comes to The Father except through Me." Even if one does not believe in Jesus Christ as God, s/he can read the Bible and come away understanding that Christianity recognizes no "way to be saved" apart from Christian faith.

I will suggest to Brother Villafana that, if he would be saved, he purchase a Bible and read it. Rather than taking for granted that a convocation of "interfaith leaders"--however sincere--will communicate God's true Word, he should ask the Lord Himself what is required. Then he will obtain a true answer.


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