Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The California Jesuits – How Did They Do It? Part VI

And, as they return to camp, Mayorga sees upon the crest of a hill, the silhouette of a coyote calling to its clan. He wonders is it has caught a rabbit with the long ears of a mule and calls him family to join him.

After punishing himself for his early sins of pride, Father Mayorga kneels in the sand of the river bed still warm from the sun's rays and fervently says the Rosary, seeking to calm his mind from spinning from all he has seen and learned. His brow sweats and his stomach churns from the difficult foods and he earnestly prays to have sufficient strength and health to carry out his mission.

Please, oh Lord, give me strength to carry out Your will. Thy will be done...

The sounds of others moving rouses Father Mayorga. He struggled to open his eyes and rise, frustrated by the weakness of his body. He manages to make it to the stream, kneeling in the soft sand to lave his face, hands and arms – also splashing some on his intimate parts to remove the sweat gathered there.

De Castro has the fire going and Pedro, el arriero, brings an armload of firewood to add to it. A small iron pot is already in place and he knows it had pozole in it from the kitchen at the mission.

His only addition to the morning ritual is the recitation of Our Father, Ave Maria, and the Credo. The others softly speak the words as they continue preparing their break fast.

Father Mayorga's hands slightly tremble as he ladles the gruel in between his parched lips, trying not to savor the feeling of sating the weakness of his body. And, he struggles to mount the mule Pedro has saddled and bridled for him. Seeing his efforts, the Cochimi muleteer steps forward, then drops to his knees so the holy father can mount.

The priests signs the cross to Pedro who lowers his eyes as a sign of respect.

De Castro indicates they are but an hour's ride from Loreto and Mayorga thanks The Lord that the trek is almost over.

Blackness engulfs him.

He awakens, lying on the pebbles of the riverbed. De Castro and Pedro hover over him, fear in their eyes.

Reverend father. Are you well?”

The priest tries to respond but his mouth is dry, his throat parched. Pedro puts a calabaza de agua to his mouth and he shivers at the coolness of the liquid coursing down his throat.

You have not been drinking, reverent father.”

de Castro's words were as much an accusation as a question. Seeing the priest was not about to answer, he tells Pedro to refill the water gourd and have it ready when the priest needed. Both of them helped Mayorga mount the mule and Pedro moved up next to him, there to prevent another fall.

They soon reach the mission and de Castro leads the way directly to the infirmary. He and Pedro help Father Mayorga dismount. Father Brave arrives and, upon hearing what happened, orders the priest to a cot, motioning over a convert nurse to watch over him.

Staring up at the thatch roof, Mayorga watches the little creatures darting here and there. He wonders what they are finding to feed upon, shivering at the though of what it might be. He continue to recite his Rosary, still noticing the creatures seemed to come in several varieties, each with its own markings and colors.

Do not blame yourself, father. Even after all these years here, I find the food and climate difficult to cope with.”

Mayorga turns his eyes to the Father Procurator and whispers, “Does He forgive us for our weakness?”

Father Bravo smiles. “He must for He continues to give me the strength to do His will.”

The next months are difficult for him and Mayorga often wonders if the Father Visitador will ask that he be assigned to a mainland mission. Not that a personal weakness inwardly speaks to him that such a move would be good. But, he has set his mind in spreading The Word of God in California and does not wish to displease his Heavenly Father.


We have been blessed by an honored benefactor of having sufficient supplies to found another mission.”

Mayorga listens to Father Visitador Salvatierra announce this to the gathered group. Present are Fathers Ugarte and Bravo, Hermano Mugazábal, Captain Esteban Rodrguez, Sergeant Valdez, and Corporal de Castro.

Don José de la Puente Peña Castejón y Salcines, Marqués de Villapuente, has generally bestowed the funds for the venture.” Father Visitador Salvatierra turns to Father Ugarte and the captain. “It is the valley the Cochimi call Comondú. As you remember, there appears to be sufficient soil and water to support such an enterprise.” He also adds that the nearby Cochimi rancherias appear eager to have a mission among them.

Mayorga intently listens, learning the site is on the other side of the mountains about ten leagues north and slightly west of Loreto. He hears it was not far from where Father Kino had founded Mission San Bruno, which had been abandoned due to poor soil, lack of Cochimi, and undependable water.

Father Visitador Salvatierra then turns to him. “Father, I have been given a sign that you are to be the one to start and maintain this new mission which will be dedicated to Saint Joseph.”

Mayorga's heart sinks and he feels sweat in his armpits. Why me? I am neither strong nor experienced in the ways of this harsh land. Gathering himself, he lowers his eyes and responds, “It will be my honor to serve Him in whatever manner is set before me, reverend father.”

Preparations for the undertaking are complicated. Father Mayorga is involved in every minor detail, from the various holy articles necessary to conduct rights, the special slab of stone so carefully crafted to serve as the altar, the tools for constructing and preparing gardens and fields, and the various materials for the expected converts. The list is endless and he finds himself often bewildered and confused. Fortunately, Brother Mugazábal is a patient and understanding man.

Fortunately, Mayorga has always been a good student. He has studied Cochimi since his arrival, laboriously copied Father Salvatierra's dictionary, to include every Mass and prayer in the Missal. He had even struggled to say his Rosary and other personal prayers in the language of the natives. So, communicating with those who will come to the mission is not going to be a problem for him.

Father Mayorga has become accustomed to the wildlife of California, especially the lizards that skitter everywhere one looks. Vees of Pelicans skim the surface of the sea and gulls twist and turn overhead. But it is the spiders that cause him to shudder. He watches the converts pick them up and caress their backs. He is even told that when food is scarce, they eat them – along with every other living creature. But, the time one crawled upon him while he fitfully slept terrorized him and he could not settle into his cot for a fortnight afterwards.

Having been in California a little over one year and never feeling to be in good health, Padre Julián de Mayorga prepares to set forth on the most difficult journey of his lifetime. The party is large, led by Father Visitador Salvatierra, accompanied by he and Father Ugarte, a seasoned explorer. Capitán Esteban Rodríguez, his sergeant, several soldiers, some arrieros, and neophytes had loaded the pack mules with food and supplies. In addition, a steer and five heifers, a ram and three sheep, a male and three female goats, swine in baskets loaded on mules, along with similar baskets of chickens are prepared to follow along.

Nothing can be done to alter the well-established routine of the mission day so they first attend prayers, then eat pozole, before mounting.

They travel north along the coastline to the site of Mision San Bruno, now nothing but scattered piles of rocks and stones. Father Salvatierra sadly explains how it had been the very first attempt at establishing a foothold in California and had simply not been suitable. “What we learned here was most important in selecting the site of Mision Nuestra Seora de Loreto. This is a lesson you must learn, Father Julián. The Lord Almighty sets barriers in our way to test our faith. By overcoming them, we strengthen ourselves and the faith of those who come to us in Jesus, Our Lord.”

Mayorga hears the words, but continues to fear that he may not be up to the task ahead of him.

They turn inland into the daunting mountains known as Las Sierras Gigante. Rugged peaks and winding canyons with rocky floors and spiny plants. Father Ugarte leads the way as he had explored this area before, in fact locating the site where they would build the new mission.

Crossing a pass, Mayorga gasps at the panorama of twisting, turning canyons with steeps sides. How can there possibly be a place in this wilderness to plant gardens and orchards and graze the livestock that will come there.

That is where we will establish the mission dedicated to Saint Joseph.”

Mayorga hears the Father Visitador's words and wonders if what he says is possible. If it is the will of God, he prays.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The California Jesuits – How Did They Do It? Part V

In spite of his recitation of el Rosario, Father Mayorga cannot wipe out the sounds of the desert night from his ears. He finds it difficult to believe that a land so barren and hostile can hold such life.

A coyote calls out in the light of the three quarters moon and is quickly answered by two or three others. Insects chirr and make sharp noises, suddenly silent when the soft call of an owl signals its hunt. One of the mules stamps its foot and nickers, another responding. Night birds call to one another as they seek the creatures that come out once the light of day has faded.

While fingering the beads in the decades of the prayer, the priest looks up at the sky filled with twinkling gems, wondering if He is listening to his prayers. He then cringes and almost cries out at having doubted The Lord's love for His faithful. Without hesitation, he stops his prayer and turns to the small cloth bag he carries with him. Beside his bible and missal, it contains a single spare cassock and his látigo. After withdrawing it, he bares his back and whips himself with the leather strings with sharp pieces of metal embedded in them. Such a sin deserves nothing but the most severe atonement.

The night air caresses the blood flowing down his skin and sinfully provides slight relief from the pain.

After thirty lashes, the priest replaces the whip in his sack and covers his back before returning to saying his Rosary.

Padre Ugarte is a stern man but clearly shows his love for those Cochimi who have come to him to accept The Word. When not conducted religious rites, he teaches them more, not only of matters of doctrine, but those things needed to provide themselves with food in a land of great difficulty.

As you learned in Loreto, one of the most difficult part about raising crops is keeping arable land from washing away when we irrigate it.” He led to where several converts were scooping up dirt to place in canvas containers to take back to the garden plots. He bent to the task of helping, Father Mayorga pitching in.

Meanwhile, Castro is busy with the local Cochimi governor, explaining which plants in the gardens are unwanted and need to be removed. The convert smiles and quickly orders sever of the converts to do as directed. He then moves to the area set aside for the livestock to care for his horses, along with the mule Father Mayorga had ridden.

As it had been done at la Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, the day is carefully structured to enable to converts to participate in religious rites and training, perform the tasks needed to make the mission successful, and generally keep them from mischief. Father Mayorga enjoys passing out food to the converts, especially watching them chatter among themselves as they eat.

He also surprises himself by quickly learning some of the Cochimi words. Listening to Father Ugarte reciting prayers in Cochimi is a big help, although when he learns the various meanings of the words, he sees how difficult it was to translate them to Latin. His respect only increases for those who came before him who taught the concepts of the church to people who had no belief in a supreme being.

That The Son of God had died, only to rise again, was a concept that awed them. Their lives had always been centered upon knowing that death was always nearby and often took their loved ones in unexpected ways. The knowledge that death was no longer a thing to be feared helped them cope with a discipline never before experienced.

One thing that puzzles the good father is the care taken in gathering material for the cooking fires. A land so dry should provide plenty. Yet, Father Ugarte and Castro urges the converts to carefully select the wood.

When one removes too many of the plants from a hillside, it easily washes away when we get the rains. That clogs up the stream and reduces the amount of good water we have to drink and irrigate.”

Mayorga is impressed with the extensive knowledge of the man he knows to be a soldier in the service of the society. He is also aware that he has much to learn if he is to be successful in his calling.

A rider comes to the mission on the third day. The tall lance is noticeable from a distance so Father Mayorga rightfully guesses it to be Father Ugarte's escort. Juan Carrillo is a man in his late thirties, his visage dark and creased from the strong sun of the land. He has hazel eyes, dark hair, and a gleaming smile. He clearly appreciates the presence of de Castro and this new priest. More importantly, he is eager to see he supplies they have brought.

He goes directly to Father Ugarte and, after dismounting, apologizes. “I am afraid, reverend father, they killed one of the cows before I could get there. They had already cut it into pieces and were cooking it over a big fire.”

He explaines how the Cochimi who had stolen the livestock had come to a fiesta several months before and, seeing how easy it is to eat a cow instead of scrubbing for insects and small animals, had decided to take the three cows.

Just then, two converts riding mules drive the remaining two cows up the river bed. One of them also leads an Indian tied by a rope. Piece of the carcass are draped over the back of the spare mule.

He is the leader of the family who decided to take them, reverend father.”

Father Mayorga is more than curious to see exactly what is going to be done with the culprit. He has no idea what kind of punishment will be called for by the local rules.

He is further surprised when, far down the river bed, a small group of Indians appears. Like other wild ones he has seen, the males wear nothing but tattoos and paint while the females only have leather strips around their waist with a flap covering their genitals. One male is about twelve or thirteen while the other could be no less than four or five. The woman is clearly their mother with three little girls who are her daughters.

Father Ugarte walks to the man and carefully unlooses his ropes, signaling for the herder converts to take the cattle to their place with the others. The then turns to the man and speaks to him at length in Cochimi.

He is telling him what a bad thing he has done and how it has hurt many other people.”

Father Mayorga listenes to Carrillo while paying attention to Father Ugarte.

He tells him that he and his family must stay here at the mission and work to earn the meat they have eaten. He also explains that, in the eyes of The Big Father and His Son, he must suffer for his actions.”

And the Indian understands this?”

Yes, reverend father. He and his family have been here several times before but have not yet accepted The Word to where they can be baptized.” He smiles and adds, “They will work and attend classes beside the converts until they are ready to accept The Rain of Jesus, as they call baptism.”'

Mayorga also learns the father will be punished. But it will not be given until after the evening's prayer and before the meals.

When the time comes, Carrillo and Jorge, the converts' governor, bring the man to the center of the plaza where everyone is assembled. The Cochimi is pushed to the hard-packed earth to kneel. Father Ugarte, holding a slim willow stick, addresses the crowd and explains in their language just what the man did and why it is against the customs of the church, of all gente de razn, and the community of the mission. He asks and, when the man nods his understanding, carefully rests the stick against the man's bare back.

Reciting the Our Father to provide the tempo, the priest lays strokes upon the man. Not too hard so as to break the skin and cause blood to flow or to cause bruising but enough to shame him in front of the others.

The worst punishment for any Cochimi is to be made to appear smaller than another in front of other Cochimi. It will be something he can never forget.”

Mayorga nods his thanks to de Castro and turns his attention to the converts. He notices the man's woman and children looking down at the ground, unable to watch what is happening.

When twenty lashes are complete, Father Ugarte says Amen, to which the congregates loudly responds. Carrillo and Jorge then ties the man's hand around the pole by the door to the chapel and Father Ugarte tells all it is time to partake of the evening meal.

He will stay here in the plaza until tomorrow at evening prayers. He will then be cut down and put to work under close supervision.”

Father Mayorga is impressed with Father Ugarte's action and carefully notes the reactions of the converts and the man's family.

He and de Castro prepare to depart early the next morning for the return to Loreto. Instead of allowing the soldier to prepare his mount for him, the priest does it himself, finding it slightly more difficult than it appears. But, he manages to do so, proud of his accomplishment. He instantly chastises himself inwardly, determined to atone for the sin that evening during his prayers.

During the ride back down the river bed, Mayorga continually asks questions about the land and what de Castro has learned from the Cochimi to survive in it. He knows it is but the first of many he will need but is determined to carry out the task set before him.

That night, after prayers and their meal, Mayorga convinces de Castro to show him the land at night. The soldier prepares two torches and, in their light, they walk through the area nearby the camp. Many creatures are barely glimpsed as they skitter off into the dark, but some are visible long enough to be identified.

There is el alacrán, the creature carrying its poison-filled tail high above its head. An serpiente de cascabel coils and shakes its tail in the clear warning that it feels threatened. Una troglodito del cactus pops in and out of the hole it has drilled high atop a towering cactus as it and its mate enter and depart to bring insects to its brood.

When the wren family moves away, other creatures will use the nest for their own uses,” de Castro explains.

And, as they return to camp, Mayorga sees upon the crest of a hill, the silhouette of a coyote calling to its clan. He wonders is it has caught a rabbit with the long ears of a mule and calls him family to join him.

After punishing himself for his early sins of pride, Father Mayorga kneels in the sand of the river bed still warm from the sun's rays and fervently says the Rosary, seeking to calm his mind from spinning from all he has seen and learned. His brow sweats and his stomach churns from the difficult foods and he earnestly prays to have sufficient strength and health to carry out his mission.

Please, oh Lord, give me strength to carry out Your will. Thy will be done...