Mission San Juan Capistrano hopes to attract swallows, pope

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. (KABC) -- Mission San Juan Capistrano is undergoing a two-fold quest: attract a dwindling population of swallows and bring the pope to the historic site during his U.S. visit.

On Thursday, bells rang out at the mission, kicking off St. Joseph's Day and a celebration of the return of the swallows.

Thousands of people visit each year to welcome back the little birds that have nested at the mission for about 200 years.

"Their timing of coming on that particular day made it a tradition for a lot of people," Palm Springs resident Gary Chaney said.

In the last 20 years, however, the number of cliff swallows at the mission have declined rapidly.

"We think this is largely because of landscape changes, primarily increased forestation," said Dr. Charles Brown, a cliff swallow expert spearheading the effort to bring the birds back.

One method he uses involves swallow mating calls played over a speaker. Next year, he plans to install fake plaster nests.

Meanwhile, the staff at the mission have launched the "Hope for the Pope" petition online, aiming to persuade the pope to make a stop in California.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis announced Father Junipero Serra would be made a saint. At the mission, Serra Chapel is the last place still standing where Father Serra delivered mass.

The people at the mission say the miracles of the swallows' return and the pope's arrival go hand-in-hand.

"When he was installed as a pope, that day swallows came flying through as we rang the bells. To me, that was a sign of good things to come," said Mechelle Lawrence Adams, executive director for Mission San Juan Capistrano

The pope is scheduled to visit the U.S. in September, but at this time he has no plans to visit California.

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