Community Mass pays homage to the ancestors of San Juan Capistrano


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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

San Juan Capistrano is a town steeped in tradition, and which longtime residents believe in paying homage to their historic ancestors.

This legacy will continue on Saturday, November 6, when community members with ancestral ties to San Juan gather at the historic Old Mission Cemetery for a commemorative Catholic Mass in honor of those who came before them. Regional religious leaders, including a bishop and priests with historical ties to the country, will be at the memorial.

“We come together to remember our ancestors on this occasion because it is our 11e annual mass, ”said Jerry Nieblas, resident of the historic district of Los Rios, whose grandparents and other ancestors are buried at the site. “I will not prevent anyone from coming to this mass. I don’t believe in walls. I believe the walls must fall.

Mass will start at 9:30 a.m. Members of the Juaneño and Hispanic communities were invited to pay homage to their ancestors. The historic Old Mission Cemetery is at the end of the private access road near the Chevron gas station on the Ortega Freeway, a few blocks from Mission San Juan Capistrano.

“Until I was still a little boy, they still digged graves here by hand and it sometimes took them three to four days because the ground here is mud,” Nieblas said. “It’s clay. It is the rock of the river.

A new statue of Jesus Christ on the cross was recently placed at the cemetery, which Nieblas says is “the heart of the cemetery” and “our pride”.

“I waited probably as long as I waited for the altar and the pedestals – probably about 20 or 30 years, just ups and downs with the cemetery, just putting it on hold,” Nieblas said. “This year we were lucky. The San Juan Capistrano Historical Alliance committee contacted our audience and members and asked for donations. We got a good response but, thanks to a major donor, we were able to finalize the purchase of our Corpus Christi.

Local Eagle Scout members helped with cemetery amenities. Oral stories about older generations who lived in what is now San Juan Capistrano have been passed down from generation to generation, Nieblas said.

“They were burying people here already in the 1830s, but there was no real deal. They no longer had land in San Juan in the Mission area. The families here – we have such a small community – decided to bury them here, ”Nieblas said. “They have chosen this site with care, however, following some of our traditions and things that are important to our culture. This land is located in the valley of the two rivers. There is a river on San Juan Creek and there is a river on Oso (road).

Visitors to the cemetery could also see the ocean from the site on a clear day.

“What people don’t realize about this cemetery is that it’s the oldest in Orange County that we know of. We don’t know of anything so old and still in use, ”Nieblas said. “This contains the descendants of the original original people of San Juan Capistrano – the natives, then the European Spaniards who came, the soldiers. We are their descendants. Also, the first Mexicano.

Familiar names around town, including Forster and Rios, can be spotted on tombstones throughout the cemetery. A reception will be held at Blas Aguilar Adobe (31806 El Camino Real, near Historic Town Center Park and Camino Real Playhouse) after the ceremony.

“It’s never going to be a graveyard with lawns or sprinkler systems, and that’s because that’s what people want. We consider it very sacred and we regard it as very consecrated land by church standards, ”Nieblas said of maintaining the rustic quality of the cemetery. “When we bury our people, we always follow tradition as much as possible. When there is a mass at the mission, we accompany them up the hill when we can.

Native American and Catholic traditions mingle to pay homage to the dead.

“We try to honor them with songs and tobacco offerings rather than earthen offerings,” Nieblas said. “Sea water, when appropriate, because of our connection to the ocean. We are following both of these traditions here now and we respect them both. ”

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as editor of The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be contacted by email at

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