To find the heart of San Francisco, you need to head south of Market Street, not to the Castro District teeming with people who very publicly define themselves by the perverse acts in which they engage, but to the Mission District.
Here is where the most beautiful of American cities was founded -- not by 49ers, beatniks, hippies or homosexuals, but by devout and dedicated Spanish Franciscans who crossed half the world to bring their faith to a new land.
Mission Dolores is not just the heart of San Francisco, she symbolizes its soul. The Franciscans founded the mission on June 29, 1776, just as American patriots on the other side of the continent were preparing to declare their independence from England with a document that said all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
Unlike some of the European settlers on the Eastern side of the continent, the priests who founded San Francisco did not bring slaves or try to rationalize human bondage. What they did bring was the best of European civilization -- teaching the indigenous people how to farm and raise livestock and what the priests deeply believed was the one true faith.
Even though these priests named their mission for St. Francis, the church building itself popularly took on the name of Our Lady of Sorrows, which the missionaries had bestowed on a nearby stream.
These pioneers completed the permanent structure of Dolores in 1791. For more than 220 years, what they built has stood strong and intact, the oldest surviving structure in a city where earthquakes and fires and changing fashions have been the ruin of virtually every other venerable thing capable of destruction by man or nature.
Though Mission Dolores itself will surely someday crumble, the truth it represents has not, will not and cannot die.
To those who did not know 20th century San Francisco, the city must have seemed a place in constant cultural flux, where in each passing generation the latest fad in lifestyles briefly took hold and was then swept away.
But under the flotsam and jetsam of the pop cultural trends that moved in and out of the city on decadal tides, the deeper culture of San Francisco remained a solid rock. Like most other American cities of the past century, it was mostly populated by working- and middle-class people dedicated to raising their children to believe in the things that made America great -- hard work, traditional morality, faith in God.
But that underlying bedrock began eroding in the late 1970s, when the homosexual movement arrived in the city.
The truth: Traditional family life cannot survive in a culture seeking to force normalization and moral approbation of homosexual behavior.
The reason: Homosexual behavior is wrong. It violates the natural law. To say two men or two women can marry one another is like saying two plus two is five: It is not the way God made things. To tell people, including children, that they must assent to the government claiming that two men or two women can marry one another is like telling them they must assent to the government telling them two plus two is five.
When a society insists that everyone must assent to the proposition that homosexual behavior is right and good and that everyone must recognize same-sex marriages are right and good, and everyone must assent to the right of same-sex couples to take custody of children who they could never, by nature, conceive, that society has declared war on the natural moral law that the Founding Fathers of this country and the founding fathers of San Francisco correctly understood to be the foundation of true human freedom.
This is not to say homosexuals should not be treated with charity. But their freedom, too, depends on society's fidelity to the truth.
Mission Dolores still stands today, but the church that built her stands forever.
And last week, Pope Benedict XVI sent a new pioneer to that frontier to stand in her defense.
His name is Salvatore J. Cordileone. He is a native Californian and a doctor of canon law, who now serves as bishop of Oakland and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee on the Defense and Promotion of Marriage. On Oct. 4, he will become the new archbishop of San Francisco.
Cordileone's record shows him to be man of compassion, conviction and courage.
"In places where marriage's core meaning has been altered through legal action, officials are beginning to target for punishment those believers and churches that refuse to adapt," he said in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee last November. "Any nonconforming conduct and even expressions of disagreement, based simply on support for marriage as understood since time immemorial, are wrongly being treated as if they harmed society, and somehow constituted a form of evil equal to racism."
Involvement in the marriage issue, he said in a speech in May, led him to see "the erosion of the rights of religious institutions to serve the broader community in accord with their moral principles precisely because of this issue, as well the rights of individuals to have their freedom of conscience respected.
"When I saw what was happening and my eyes were opened," he said, "it made me fear that we could be starting to move in the direction of license and despotism."
The pope has struck a blow for freedom by sending this man to San Francisco.