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Seize the Day’s Resolve: St. Junípero Serra

Newsletters Sign Up Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers. Some danced for the party, offering them fish and mussels. The Indians now encountered by the party near the coast appeared well-fed and more eager to receive cloth than food. On June 25, as the party struggled to cross a series of ravines, they noticed many Indians following them. When they camped for the night, the Indians pressed close. Whenever Serra placed his hands on their heads, they placed theirs on his. Coveting cloth, some begged Serra for the friar's habit he wore.

Several women passed Serra's spectacles around with delight from hand to hand, until one man dashed off with them. Serra's companions rushed to recover them, the only pair of spectacles Serra possessed. Serra learned that two Spanish galleons dispatched from Baja to supply the new missions had arrived at San Diego Bay.

One of the ships, the San Carlos , had sailed almost four months from La Paz , bypassing its destination by almost miles before doubling back south to reach San Diego Bay. Men on shore from the San Antonio , which had arrived three weeks earlier, had to board the San Carlos to help its surviving crew ashore. Between the overland and seafaring parties of the expedition, about men had started on the trip from Baja California. But no more than half of them reached San Diego.

Bl Junipero Serra: A Saint for Our Times

Most of the Christian Indians recruited to the overland parties had died or deserted; military officers had denied them rations when food started running low. Half of those who made it to San Diego spent months unable to resume the expedition, due to illness. Tensions with the local Kumeyaay people made it difficult to attract converts. The Indians accepted the trinkets Serra offered as rewards for visiting the new mission. But their craving for Spanish cloth irritated the soldiers, who accused them of stealing. Some of the Kumeyaay teased and taunted the sick soldiers.

To warn them away, soldiers fired their guns into the air. Observing the mission and its neighboring huts sparsely protected, a group of over 20 Indians attacked with bows and arrows. The four remaining soldiers, aided by the blacksmith and carpenter, returned fire with muskets and pistols. Serra, clutching a Jesus figurine in one hand and a Mary figurine in the other, prayed to God to save both sides from casualties. That night Serra buried Vergerano secretly, concealing his death from the Indians. The Indian warriors, suffering several dead and wounded, retreated with a new-found respect for the power of Spanish firearms.

As local Indians cremated their dead, the wailing of their women sounded from local villages. Yet Serra wrote six months later, in a letter to the guardian of the college of San Fernando , that "both our men and theirs sustained wounds"—without mentioning any Indian deaths. He added: "It seems none of them died so they can still be baptized. A teenage boy from the Kumeyaay village of Kosa'aay Cosoy, known today as Old Town, San Diego who had often visited the mission before the outbreak of hostilities, resumed his visits with the friars.

He soon learned enough Spanish for Serra to view him as an envoy to help convert the Kumeyaay. Serra urged the boy to persuade some parents to bring their young child to the mission, so that Serra could administer Catholic baptism to the child by pouring water over his head. A few days later, a group of Indians arrived at the mission carrying a naked baby boy. The Spaniards interpreted their sign language as a desire to have the boy baptized. Serra covered the child with some clothing and asked the corporal of the guard to sponsor the baptism. Dressed in surplice and stole , Serra read the initial prayers and performed the ceremonies to prepare for baptism.

But just as he lifted the baptismal shell, filled it with water and readied to pour it over the baby's head, some Indians grabbed the child from the corporal's arms and ran away to their village in fear. The other Kumeyaay visitors followed them, laughing and jeering. The frustrated Serra never forgot this incident; recounting it years later brought tears to his eyes. Serra attributed the Indians' behavior to his own sins.

Over six months dragged on without a single Indian convert to mission San Diego. They had survived by slaughtering and eating their mules along the return trek south. They reported large populations of Indians living along the coast who seemed friendly and docile, ready to embrace the gospel. Serra fervently wrote to the guardian of the college of San Fernando , requesting more missionaries willing to face hardships in Alta California.

Food remained scarce as the San Diego outpost awaited the return of the supply ship San Antonio. On the morning of March 19, Serra celebrated Mass and preached a sermon at the forlorn mission on Presidio Hill. No ship appeared in the bay that morning. But around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the sails of a ship—the San Antonio —came into view on the horizon. It sailed past San Diego Bay, destined for Monterey. When it got to the Santa Barbara Channel, its sailors made landfall to fetch fresh water. Contrary winds blew the ship back south to the Baja peninsula , then as far north as the Farallon Islands.

Serra described the six-week voyage as "somewhat uncomfortable. Following the same route they had taken the year before, the expedition reached Monterey Bay on May 24, without losing a single man or suffering any serious illness. They found the cross surrounded by feathers and broken arrows driven into the ground, with fresh sardines and meat laid out before the cross. No Indians were in sight. The three men then walked along the rocky coast south to Carmel Bay. Several Indians approached them, and the two groups exchanged gifts.

Serra realized from the start that the new mission needed relocation: While the Laws of the Indies required missions to be located near Indian villages, there were no Indian settlements near the newly christened mission by Monterey Bay. Forty men, including the two friars and five Baja Indians, remained to develop the mission on the Monterey peninsula. In San Diego, miles kilometers south, 23 men remained to develop the mission there. Both groups would have to wait a year before receiving supplies and news from Mexico.

He remained there as "Father Presidente" of the Alta California missions. In , Serra relocated the mission to Carmel , which became known as "Mission Carmel" and served as his headquarters. Under his presidency were founded:. Serra was also present at the founding of the Presidio of Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, California on April 21, , but was prevented from locating the mission there because of the animosity of Governor Felipe de Neve.

He began in San Diego on July 16, , and established his headquarters near the Presidio of Monterey , but soon moved a few miles south to establish Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in today's Carmel, California. The missions were primarily designed to bring the Catholic faith to the native peoples. Other aims were to integrate the neophytes into Spanish society, to provide a framework for organizing the natives into a productive workforce in support of new extensions of Spanish power, and to train them to take over ownership and management of the land.

As head of the order in California, Serra not only dealt with church officials, but also with Spanish officials in Mexico City and with the local military officers who commanded the nearby garrison. Bucareli ruled in Serra's favor on 30 of the 32 charges brought against Fages, and removed him from office in , after which time Serra returned to California. In , Serra, although not a bishop, was given dispensation to administer the sacrament of confirmation for the faithful in California.

After he had exercised his privilege for a year, Governor Felipe de Neve directed him to suspend administering the sacrament until he could present the papal brief. For nearly two years Serra refrained, and then Viceroy Majorga gave instructions to the effect that Serra was within his rights. Franciscans saw the Indians as children of God who deserved the opportunity for salvation, and would make good Christians. Converted Indians were segregated from Indians who had not yet embraced Christianity, lest there be a relapse.

To understand the impetus behind missionary efforts in the 18th century, one must take into account the era's views on the salvation of unbaptized infants. While there were many controversies in the Church's history, the fate of unbaptized infants has never been definitively settled by an ecumenical council of Bishops in the Catholic church. Catholics are therefore free to speculate, and hold a variety of opinions on the matter. In the 18th century, most Catholic speculation regarding the ultimate end of unbaptized infants was still in line with the early Church Fathers such as St.

Augustine of Hippo , who believed that unbaptized infants would receive the mildest chastisements in Hell, but no reward. From this came the determined efforts of missionaries to the detriment of native cultures, which few today would countenance. Discipline was strict, and the converts were not allowed to come and go at will. Indians who were baptized were required to live at the mission and conscripted into forced labor as plowmen, shepherds, cattle herders, blacksmiths, and carpenters on the mission. Disease, starvation, overwork, and torture decimated these tribes.

Serra wielded this kind of influence because his missions served economic and political purposes as well as religious ends. The number of civilian colonists in Alta California never exceeded 3,, and the missions with their Indian populations were critical to keeping the region within Spain's political orbit. Economically, the missions produced all of the colony's cattle and grain, and by the s were even producing surpluses sufficient to trade with Mexico for luxury goods. Hence, he has been called the "Father of California Wine ".

The variety he planted, presumably descended from Spain, became known as the Mission grape and dominated California wine production until about Serra had a singular purpose to save, in his mind, Native American souls. He believed that the death of an unconverted heathen was tragic, while the death of a baptized convert was a cause for joy. He wrote, "That spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of the Americas; so general in fact that the saints do not seem to be any exception to the rule.

The New York Times noted that some "Indian historians and authors blame Father Serra for the suppression of their culture and the premature deaths at the missions of thousands of their ancestors. Tinker writes that while Serra's intentions in evangelizing were honest and genuine, [87] overwhelming evidence suggests that the "native peoples resisted the Spanish intrusion from the beginning".

Fages worked his men very harshly and was seen as a tyrant. Serra intervened on the soldiers' behalf, and the two did not get along. Mark A. Noll , a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois , wrote that Serra's attitude—that missionaries could, and should, treat their wards like children, including the use of corporal punishment—was common at the time. Cordileone , archbishop of San Francisco , acknowledges Native American concerns about Serra's whippings and coercive treatment, but argues that missionaries were also teaching school and farming.

He didn't get along too well with some of the military people, you know. His attitude was, 'Stay away from the Indians'. I think you really come up with a benevolent, hard-working person who was strict in a lot of his doctrinal leanings and things like that, but not a person who was enslaving Indians, or beating them, ever. He was a very caring person and forgiving. Even after the burning of the mission in San Diego , he did not want those Indians punished.

He wanted to be sure that they were treated fairly. Deborah A. Miranda , a professor of American literature at Washington and Lee University who is part Native American, stated that "Serra did not just bring us Christianity. He imposed it, giving us no choice in the matter.

He did incalculable damage to a whole culture". Buckley Jr.

Ninth in a series

You can't put a whip in his hand. You can't put a smoking gun in his hand. And that is true. The man was an administrator. Corine Fairbanks of the American Indian Movement proclaimed: "For too long the mission system has been glorified as these wonderful moments of California's golden era. That is not true. They were concentration camps.

They were places of death. Pope Francis , in spite of his canonization of Serra during a visit to the United States, called on Catholics to "embark upon a new chapter of evangelization. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but 'by attraction'. Despite these concerns, thousands of Native Americans in California maintain their Catholic faith, [] and some supported efforts to canonize Serra.

I think Serra would be proud Members of other tribes associated with the mission system also expressed support for Serra's canonization. The mission lands were our ancestral homes. Our ancestors are buried at the mission. On the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe's official website, the community released a bilingual statement in support of Serra's canonization shortly after a visit between Chief Cerda and Pope Francis, stating:. We wholeheartedly Support the canonization of Saint Junipero Serra because he protected our people and supported their full human rights against the politicians and the military with total disregard for his own life and safety.

Two members of California's Ohlone Tribe played roles in the canonization Mass by placing a relic of Serra's near the altar and reading a scripture in Chochenyo, a native language. One of the participants, Andrew Galvan, a member of the Ohlone Tribe and curator of Mission Dolores in San Francisco, stated prior to the ceremony that the canonization "will be the culmination of a life's work for me. It will be a ceremonial opening of the door that will 'let us Indians in,' a moment I honestly didn't think I would live to see.

Ruben Mendoza, an archeologist of Mexican Mestizo and Native Yaqui descent who has extensively excavated missions in California, stated during a March interview with the Los Angeles Times that "Serra endured great hardships to evangelize Native Californians. In the process, he orchestrated the development of a chain of missions that helped give birth to modern California. When I don't go along with the idea that the missions were concentration camps and that the Spanish brutalized every Indian they encountered, I'm seen as an adversary.

At the age of thirty-seven, he landed in Mexico City on January 1, , and spent the rest of his life working for the conversion of the peoples of the New World. In , Father Serra took over the missions of the Jesuits who had been wrongly expelled by the government in the Mexican province of Lower California and Upper California modern day California. An indefatigable worker, Serra was in large part responsible for the foundation and spread of the Church on the West Coast of the United States when it was still mission territory.

He founded twenty-one missions and converted thousands of Indians. The converts were taught sound methods of agriculture, cattle raising, and arts and crafts. Junipero was a dedicated religious and missionary. He was imbued with a penitential spirit and practiced austerity in sleep, eating, and other activities.


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On August 28, , worn out by his apostolic labors, Father Serra was called to his eternal rest. His statue, representing the state of California, is in National Statuary Hall. His feast day is July 1. When he died of malaria, Maria's mother had to struggle Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5, saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints.

Mary, also known as St. The Virgin Mother "was, after her Son, exalted by divine grace above all angels and Saint Michael the Archangel isn't a saint, but rather he is an angel, and the leader of all angels and of the army of God. This is what the title "Archangel" means, that he is above all the others in rank. Michael has four main responsibilities or offices, as we Gabriel is an angel who serves as a messenger for God to certain people. He is one of the three archangels. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. First, in the Old Testament, Gabriel appears to the prophet Daniel to explain his The "Great Martyr," and the leader of converts in the Roman army.

While serving as a tribune in the army of General Galerius, Andrew and his men faced a battle with a Persian host. Calling upon Christ for aid, the Romans were victorious. Andrew and some of his troops Angela Merici was an Italian religious educator and founder of the Ursulines whose deep prayer life and relationship with the Lord bore the fruit of mystical encounters with God. She was born on March 21, in Desenzano, a small town on the shore of Lake Garda Are you next? Advertise on Catholic Online Your ads on catholic.

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