CAMP PENDLETON- Bob Aragon is the Ray Kinsella of the Camp Pendleton Catholic community. (To refresh the memories of any late 80s movies buffs, Ray was the Iowa corn farmer who remodeled his agricultural landscape in favor of a state-of-the-art baseball field, complete with lights. The movie “Field of Dreams” became an instant hit, and the often quoted “If you build it, he will come” is still identifiable in today’s popular culture.”
Before he retired from Camp Pendleton, Aragon trained fellow Marines on driving techniques and knows the nuances of the base’s topography and shortcuts. One landmark, actually Historical Landmark No. 562, was overgrown with weeds and by all accounts neglected in spirit.
The landmark, known as the Christianitos site, marks the spot where the first baptism in Alta California took place. It was celebrated by Padre Francisco Gomez, part of the Portola expedition, in 1769. At this early baptism ceremony, two very sick Native American girls were initiated into the Catholic faith.
Three months ago, Aragon had his Ray Kinsella moment.
“It would be so cool to have a baptism here,” Aragon shared with his inner circle of four Camp Pendleton families as he surveyed the field of foxtails, neglected paths and a natural well where Padre Gomez celebrated two baptisms more than two centuries ago.
Setting May 28 as a date, Aragon planned an event that would feature the rededication of the Christianitos site, a Mass and the baptism of two babies. To invite the Catholic community to join in the celebration, he relied on word-of-mouth, social media, namely Facebook, and making testimonials at local North County parishes.
As the day of celebration approached, Aragon kept thinking, Would anyone show up for the rededication of this sacred place? The keynote speaker, Auxiliary Bishop Neal J. Buckon of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, agreed to celebrate the Mass along with Camp Pendleton’s Father Kevin Sweeney and assisted by Deacon C.J. Donarski. The overgrown brush had been cleared, and a fresh coat of white paint gave the location a bright new smile.
Aragon’s Catholic makeover was complete. “If we build it, he will come” transformed to “If we clean it up, they will come.” And last month, right on schedule, more than 70 people attended Mass under the canopies on a cleared meadow, adjacent to the noticeable large white cross that just three months ago was a neglected landmark for more than 50 years.
“I’m ecstatic,” shared Aragon as he gathered with the celebrants, families and friends under the shade trees after the rededication Mass. Dressed in recognizable green “Why Catholic?” T-shirts, Aragon and another core leader, Kelly Dempsey, took a collective deep breath as they witnessed the attendees relaxing under the shade trees at the reception.
“Why Catholic?” is a faith-based community that focuses on the four parts of the catechism: profession of faith; liturgy; Ten Commandments; and Christian prayer. Started three years ago at Camp Pendleton, it encourages small Church communities within the sprawling 125,000-acre military base.
“With this group, I can express myself and share in my Catholic faith without a filter,” Aragon said. With such spirit-filled dedication and strong work ethic, Aragon’s own field of dreams is a testament to getting things done…and right on time.
To visit the Christianitos site, take Interstate 5 and exit San Mateo Road toward the Camp Pendleton base entrance. A valid driver’s license and car registration are required and may be requested by the guards at the gate. Be prepared to explain the intent of your visit as the guards may not be familiar with the refurbished Christianitos landmark. Once inside the base, travel toward the gas station and make a left at the fork in the road. With the large white cross on the left, turn into the gravel parking lot.
To see more photos on the transformation of the Christianitos site, visit Catholics Camp Pendleton on Facebook. For resources on “Why Catholic?”, contact Deacon Donarski at (760) 725-1764, ext. 2929, or Conrad.Donarski@usmc.mil.
This article ran in the June 2011 issue of The Southern Cross, reprinted here by permission.
Copyright 2011 Colleen McNatt