Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Jesuit Missionaries – How Did They Do It? Part III

After the first day of work with Brother Bravo, Father Mayorga was moved from the infirmary to a small portioned area in the house where Father Salvatierra and Brother Bravo had similar cells. Beside his cot was a small stand with a crucifix. His bad of meager possessions lay upon the cot.

The priest knelt by his bed and thanked his Lord that he had made it through his first day and praised Him for His caring about the poor people of the land. He then fingered his prayer beads and said The Rosary. He continued to do so until he heard the bell for all to douse their lights. Although he had none, he took it as a sign to lay upon his cot, which he did, staring up in the dark.

On his way to the storehouse the next morning, Father Mayorga glanced around and stopped in shock at the sight of Indians standing on a hillside to one side of the village.

They were naked! Shameless in the sight of God!

The stunned priest clutched his prayer beads with one hand and tried to shield his eyes with the other as he all but ran to the door of the storehouse, rushing inside, and clutching a post to keep himself from going into a faint. He gathered himself enough to drop to his knees, begging forgiveness for not being able to get the memory of naked women and girls out of his mind.

“I felt the same when I first arrived here, reverend father. We must look upon it as a test of our faith, dedication to the order, and our determination to follow the way of missionaries we have accepted.”

Brother Bravo’s words soothed the priest a little and he was finally able to rise to perform his duties. The task was almost overwhelming.

“You do this by yourself, brother?”

“No, reverend father. I have one or two soldiers from the presidio to help me. The same ones that helped bring these goods here from the ship.”

“So, my being sent here is some form of punishment?”

The brother turned and smiled. “No, reverend father. As you will someday be given the responsibility of a mission, the father visitador felt you needed to become involved with the most important duty, that of ordering supplies that will be vital to the success of the mission. It is not a punishment, but an education.”

The ship still lay at anchor and, as the items in the warehouse were itemized and shelved, more bags were brought by sailors from Loreto, supervised by a presidial corporal.

Father Mayorga could not help but notice bolt after bolt of white cotton cloth. He did not need to be told that it was to clothe los Indios who came to a mission and accepted the rules of Christianity.

Even with the distraction, he could not erase the vision of naked bodies - no, naked female bodies - from his tortured mind. It became even worse when, at the evening meal, he doled out ladles of atole to los Indios invited by Father Visitador Salvatierra to dine. He understood it was to show them that they no longer needed to hunt for grubs, worms, and insects to fill their stomachs.

As soon as possible, the agonized father made his way to his cell, having stopped to remove a lash with small, sharp spikes from the storage area. He knelt before the crucifix and began to beg The Lord for forgiveness. Removing his robe, he lashed his weak flesh, the pain searing through him almost - but not quite - erasing the forbidden visions of unclad flesh from his mind. The self-punishment only ended when he toppled onto his cot,  no longer able to continue as his mind shut down and he sank into a stupor.

The morning bell roused Mayorga and he drew his rough cloth robe over his bloody flesh, wincing in pain. He went to the large wooden pail and splashed water on his face and stood erect, ready to face another day in that wicked land into which the Lord had seen fit to send him.

The days passed in dull routine. That, he had learned at the college, was the way he and his fellow priests taught the non convertidos to turn from their savage ways and learn the customs of the Spanish and the Mother Church. The amount and variety of supplies almost bewildered him. Everything from pins and needles and nails to ploughshares, saddles, boots, and hats. That did not include the various things the fathers had ordered for use in religious ceremonies.

Once everything had been unpacked and itemized, Mayorga discovered the task had but barely started. Brother Bravo brought out six ledgers in which the supplies ordered for each of the five missions and the presidio were written down.

“We fill the orders for the missions first, especially for the four away from here. They are always in dire need of what they have asked for. Our Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, comes next and we fill the order for the presidio last.”

There was a map on the wall that Mayorga had studied at every opportunity. Just a glance to the west told him that it could not possibly describe the terrain in which they were located or the difficulty in traveling to them. Misión San Juan Bautista Malibat and Santa Rosalie de Mulegé would be supplied by canoes. Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé would be resupplied by mule train. Only when those were on the way would Brother Bravo, with Mayorga’s help, would proceed to distribute supplies to Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó and the presidio, all eager beyond description for things desperately needed.

It came as somewhat as a shock when Father Visitador Salvatierra informed him that he would accompany the pack train carrying supplies to Mision San Francisco de Viggé. “I wish you to meet Father Juan de Ugarte. He came with me when we first explored this land and can show you what you will face when the time comes for you to found a mission.” He then made the sign of the cross. “You will be departing on the morning of the day the supplies are ready.”