Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Jesuit Missionaries – How Did They Do It? Part IV

Let’s bring things up to date - at has been almost a month.

Julián de Mayorga, having left a privileged family in Toledo, Spain, finds himself far away in Loreto, the center of Antigua California, as it will someday be known. He is now a missionary of the Society of Jesus in that furthermost frontier of New Spain. Never of strong health, he has suffered months on a creaking, leaky ship sailing back and forth as it struggled north from Acapulco to Loreto with much-needed supplies.

Canyon to San Javier

He meets the priests who will lead him in his new calling and, in spite of his illness, is set to work assisting Brother Coadjutor Bravo in inventorying and sorting the much-needed supplies brought on the ship. And then, he receives the shocking news that Father Visitador [Inspector] Salvatierra, the head of the missions, is sending him with supplies to Misión San Francisco de Viggé.

The time ashore, a few meals he is able to keep down, and working in the storehouse restores some of Father Mayorga's strength. Although shaken to the core by seeing naked native females, he is resigned to seek guidance from The Lord in helping him carry out his calling.

One of the converts, un ganadero, or drover, prepares six mules to carry packs of supplies through the wilderness. A young soldier, Francisco María José de Castro, is assigned by Captain Rodriguez to escort he and the mule train to the mission.

How old are you, my son?”

The youth braces himself and replies, “I am seventeen years of age, reverend father. I was born in Villa de Sinaloa and my father is a soldier. He taught me what he knows and supported my desire to come here and serve The Lord in this land.”

Mayorga sighs, crosses himself, and begins to finger his prayer beads in a Rosary after mounting a mule. The soldier rides a horse, a second one tied to the last mule in the train. He is well-armed with a tall lance, a sword, a musket, and two pistols. Mayorga instantly wonders why such a show of arms is necessary. Did not Brother Brave tell him the natives were not hostile? And certainly did not possess weapons to be feared by he or the soldier?

There is no road. Not even a trail he can recognize. They ride in the middle of a dry riverbed until rocks make them move up the hillside into plants with thorns and stickers everywhere.

Having suffered greatly from the heat in his heavy wool cassock, he appreciates its thickness as it protects him from plants reaching out to draw blood. He also notes the heavy leather protector of the horse's neck and forelegs ridden by Francisco Castro. He also notes the long leather leg coverings he heard called chaparreras.

They ride. And ride. Up and down hillsides. In and out of the riverbed that appears as if never a drop of water ever flowed in it.

He is surprised when he comments on that, how quickly the young soldier responds. “Reverend father, in this land, one must always look ahead at the sky. It may happen many leagues from here, but a heavy downpour will cause the riverbeds to fill beyond the height of a horse.” He then points to markings along the wall of the riverbed, explaining that is how high the water flows – faster than a horse can run.

If one does not climb to a safe height, death is certain in the flood.”

What other terrible dangers does this land hold? Mayorga crosses himself and continues his Rosary with an intensity he has not felt for some time.

They leave the riverbed as the sun lowers in the west and the soldier indicates where they are to make a dry camp. Mayorga notes that the Indian drover has led the mules to some low trees and bushes, surprised when they happily munch on leaves and strange balls of plants.

It is called ball moss for its shape, reverend father. And the trees are acacia, something they also enjoy eating.” He then turns to gather dry wood, forming a pit by surround it with rocks that the priests helps him gather. With flint and steel, Castro quickly starts the fire. As the only water they have is carried on their animals, there is no thought of brewing anything. As it turns out, the fire is simply to heat tortillas brought from Loreto to eat with dried beef strips.

This charki de carne de vaca is something you will become very tired of, reverend father. These strips of dried beef are our staple in the field – and at the missions.”

It grows late and Mayorga has no idea where he is going to bed down for the night. The ground is nothing but rocks, pebbles, and thorny plants. So, it is with great interest that he watches Castro carry his bed roll, saddle blanket, and saddle down to the river bed.

Taking it as a cue, Mayorga follows and copies the soldier as he digs a shallow hole in the sand still hot from the sun. The saddle blanket goes over the hole and he places the saddle at one end of it. The bed roll is to cover him during the night. “It becomes unusually cold at night, reverend father, and one must cover up.”

They return to the fire and Mayorga sees the driver sitting with his back to one of the towering saguaros, his wide-brimmed sombrero over his eyes, his serape wrapped around him.

This can be a cruel land, reverend father. There is little water and we have not yet learned the tricks the Cochimi use to quench their thirst. Few plants are edible and a wide variety of creatures roam the land that bite and sting.”

It is what The Lord calls us to do, my son. There is a path He has set before us and we must gird ourselves to follow it.”

Castro crosses himself and, after adding several more sticks to the fire, continues his Rosary.

It is only when the sun kisses the hills to the west that Castro carefully covers the fire with rocks and walks down to the river bed. Mayorga follows and discovers the reason for the shallow hole. It is to accommodate his shoulder. He tries not to sleep, spending every hour in prayer and contemplation. But, the day has been most difficult and his eyes close against his will.

They crest a pass and Father Mayorga looks down to see an unusual sight. A church of sun-dried bricks with white stucco on the walls and thick thatch upon the roof sits near what appears to be a small creek. He also spies a ditch carrying water to a garden and some trees next to the chapel.

Drawing nearer, the priest realizes the buildings are not of sun-dried bricks but stone held together by adobe mud. That makes sense as the entire countryside is covered in rocks and stones and boulders.

A man in a black robe is bending over in the garden with two others in white plants and blouses. When someone spies the supply train and calls out, the priest stands erect and slaps his hands together to remove the dirt. He shades his eyes and then waves.

Welcome, brother. I am Juan de Ugarte. You are new to this land.”

It was clearly not a question. Mayorga quickly introduces himself and tells how he was assigned to accompany the supplies.

You and young Castro are most welcome here. We badly need these supplies.”

The mules are led to a stone building next to the chapel. One is clearly where Father Ugarte lives and Mayorga wonders where his escort is. When he asks, Ugarte explains his soldier is in the hills seeking cattle run off by a band of unconverted Cochimi. “I do not expect him to return for several days.”

The mules are unloaded and Mayorga discovers that one half of the building is a storehouse with a big lock on a door to which Ugarte has the key tight to the belt around his middle. The sun stands high in the sky when they finish unloading and setting the supplies inside. Castro speaks of returning to Loreto right away but Father Ugarte denies it. “You will spend the night here and start off in the morning. That way you will not have to make a dry camp on your return.”

Mayorga clearly notes the absolute subservience the soldier shows the padre.

Mayorga spends the afternoon assisting Ugarte sort the supplies, not failing to note a surprising number of bolts of white cotton. All the while, he pays careful attention to the man responsible for the California Pious Fund and who had come to Loreto in 1701. When he tells about driving off the Cochimi who had forced Father Piccolo to flee, Mayorga easily believes it as his impressive size strikes fear into the heart of any foe.

During a meal of beef roasted on a fire with the usual frijoles y tortillas, he is surprised when Father Ugarte spoons some small green cubes onto his plate. “It is nopal, brother. The leaves of a cactus we call a prickly pear for the fruit it produces. It keeps the escorbuto away.”

Mayorga assists at the evening prayers and then spends several turns of the hour glass kneeling before la Virgen María, seeking forgiveness for his sins and weaknesses. When he prepares to bed down for the night, he finds his saddle, blanket, and bedroll on a cot. Castro already asleep while Father Ugarte busily makes notes at a small table with a candle lighting the page of his mission journal.

His eyes close once again against his will.

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