The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County, which bought the California megachurch Crystal Cathedral's glass sanctuary last year, has started removing the 1,800 memorial stones that were erected on the campus to honor people's loved ones.
The Walk of Faith stepping-stones are being removed as the Diocese begins renovation of the Garden Grove campus to convert it into a Catholic place of worship, New York Times reports.
Out of respect for the sponsors, digital photos of the stones have been put on display at a diocese-sponsored website. The Diocese has said the stones will be placed in storage and will not be destroyed.
However, the sponsors say they are heart-broken.
Anaheim resident Judy De Clercq, 88, told KABC-TV she scraped together $6,000 for her husband's and her son's stones. "I went to look at it all the time and I felt so good about doing it," she said. "It's breaking my heart because my husband wanted it with all his heart. It was the last thing I did for him after he died."
"The campus is in need of significant repairs and we have plans to develop and beautify the common outdoor areas around the cathedral," the new owner, Christ Catholic Cathedral Corporation, had said in a recent statement. "To make this a reality, the stones will need to be removed over the coming years – they are not all coming out now...those who want their stones returned – we are accommodating such requests."
The new owners sent letters to hundreds of sponsors, saying, "While we have made every effort to preserve the 'Walk of Faith' stones, in the process of preserving and restoring the campus, it has become necessary to remove them."
Shepherd's Grove, Crystal Cathedral Ministries' new home for Sunday church services, is trying to comfort the parishioners.
"If you were one of the generous individuals who helped to build the Walk of Faith with your financial support, please know that your donation continues to be deeply felt and appreciated," says Shepherd's Grove on its website.
The ministry filed for bankruptcy in October 2010, and sold the iconic building and its adjacent campus to the Diocese of Orange in February 2012 for future use as the diocese's new cathedral. The terms of the sale stated the building and most of the campus would be used by the ministry for up to three years before being renovated for use as a Catholic cathedral.
Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, founded Crystal Cathedral Ministries in 1955, which grew to be one of the largest Christian ministries in California.
Schuller, who is also the former host of the "Hour of Power" broadcast, recently began treatment for esophageal cancer.
Schuller's daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, made the announcement about the treatments and her father's readiness for the next life last week. "Dad knows he has cancer…And when he was told he has cancer, he said, without flinching, 'I'm ready to go home and be with Jesus,'" she said.
Schuller stepped down from the church's board in March 2012, following which legal issues abounded between the ministry and the Schuller family, especially regarding the amount of annual monetary benefits the Schullers were expecting upon retirement. To resolve its financial woes, the ministry sold its sanctuary to the Diocese of Orange, which recently converted it into "Christ Cathedral."
The 86-year-old former head of Crystal Cathedral Ministries is not expected to live for more than a couple of years, his family has said.