Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Friday, June 26, 2015

California legislators renew push against Junipero Serra, saint and Hispanic 'founding father'

Coming from California legislators, this doesn't surprise me. They lean so far to the left that all the doorways in the capitol building had to be rebuilt so they could get through them.

At least one group is fighting back, Salvemos a Serra @ http://www.salvemosaserra.com/ or Let's Save Serra. To date, more than 46,000 Californians have signed English and Spanish petitions on CitizenGo.org asking that the attempt to removed the blessed father's statue from the US Capitol Rotunda.

Why are they doing this? Who are they pandering to? I see no big movement among the California Spanish community. There's nothing on Latino television or in their newspapers. The only “Indians” complaining about this are small bands, many of whom never even lived in areas affected by the missions!

Why aren't they complaining about the first American governor of California who, in 1840, had them rounded up and deposited on “reservations” in areas not wanted by the Yanks?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father Serra – Part IV

(This is re-posted from Tuesday, May 22, 2012)

Nayarit and San Blas, Mexico

Father Serra and fifteen companions departed the college, as the seminary was known, and walked to the major sea port of San Blas [now a sleepy fishing village on the coast of Nayarit.]. It was then the place where galleons sailing from Manila, laden with silk, china, herbs, and a full treasure of items in great demand throughout Europe, landed to refill water casks and take on sorely needed foods. San Blas and Manchatel were the ports used by the Jesuits to supply their missions in Baja California.

Unlike the horrible voyage from Spain to Veracruz, the voyage from San Blas to Loreto, while difficult, was almost bearable. The flimsy ships basically spent weeks tacking back and forth to overcome the contrary winds and currents The Franciscan friars embarked on the locally-built barque, Purísima Concepción. They reached Loreto on March 12, 1768. Father Serra was 55 years old and he and his companions spent almost every waking moment on the knees praying and pleading forgiveness for their believed sins..

After a brief meeting with Governor Armona, Don Gaspar Portolá, the newly appointed governor of Alta California, and Father Serra set out to visit each mission, a Franciscan replacing the soldiers who had been assigned to look over the missions when the Jesuits had been forced to leave. Of course, Don Gaspar rode at the head of his Leatherjackets while the friars walked, leading mules with the articles they needed to conduct their holy rites.

There was one individual at Loreto of note, Captain Rivera y Moncada. A Creole, he held the important position of Commandant of the Military, the chief soldier of the Californias. He had also been the governor of California for fifteen years. As such, he took on the responsibility of scouting the way and breaking trail for those who followed as far north as Visitador General Galvéz directed. He and another soldier of the expedition, Don Pedro Fages, a lieutenant of the Catalonian Volunteers, would become lieutenant governors of Alta California.

Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó

As for Portolá, Jesuit Father Baegert wrote that, "Gratitude as well as respect for his good name compels me to state here that Governor Don Gaspar Portolá treated the Jesuits, considering the circumstances, with respect, honor, politeness, and friendliness. He never caused the least annoyance,sincerely assuring us how painful it was to him to have to execute such a commission."

On several occasions, tears came to Don Gaspar's eyes and he was surprised to find Europeans willing to live and die in such a country."

It should be noted that reports indicate how the neophytes at each mission fell to their knees, sobbing and crying out when learning their beloved Padres were departing. The Jesuits did their best to reassure their children that the men in the gray robes would treat them just as well as they. However, it would take some time for the Franciscans to gain the trust they gave the Jesuits.

At last, the time came for the expedition to depart Loreto for the long, difficult journey north. Father Serra and his friars had barely arrived and his leg was so sorely infected that Governor Portolá begged him not to go, to send another in his place. "Despite the fact that I remonstrated with him," commented Portolá to Fray Palóu, "and pointed out the delay it would cause to the expedition if he should become incapacitated along the road, I was unable to convince him to remain and have you go in his place. When I spoke to him of the matter, his consistent answer was that he trusted in God to give him the strength to enable him to reach San Diego and Monte Rey."

Father Serra lived by the creed, “Always go forward; never turn back.” With that, he departed Loreto afoot, only accompanied by a faithful Indian servant leading a burro. He took no more provisions than a loaf of bread and a piece of cheese. His first stop was at Mission San Javier where Fray Palóu met him, gave him some provisions, and the first articles for the California missions; a silver-plated chalice, a small bronze bell, a new chasuble of cloth of gold and a used red one, and a few other necessary church goods.

Baja California

Their first stop was at Mission Santa Maria. From there, they continued on to Velicatá, an oasis in the desert occupied by Cochimi Indians. Several of their youth served as neophytes at other missions and the tribal elder had begged for the “fathers” to come to his place and teach them the ways of the new gods with three heads. It was only when Father Serra was called forth from a hut in which he prayed that he first saw the “Gentiles,” his term for them, in complete nudity – only wearing feathers, paints, and some baubles.

They stayed at Velicatá long enough to erect a rude shelter for the church and another for the two friars to sleep and pray. Captain Rivera had already departed and Father Serra was to follow with Don Gaspar and a contingent of soldiers led by Sergeant José Ortega, 10 Leatherjackets, 44 Christian Indians, four muleteers, two servants, several hundred head of cattle, and a pack train. [I have been unable to get specifics of who made up the mule-train but believe it included the 44 mentioned above.]

Father Serra's leg was giving him so much trouble that all doubted he could continue. He ignored their pleas and continued limping north. They traveled about six leagues over the next two days until they came to San Juan de Dios. He could no longer stand or sit, suffering such pain it was impossible for him to sleep. Don Gaspar ordered a litter built to be carried by the Indians. Hearing of this and sadness at the effort they would undertake carrying him, Father Serra relented and called Juan Antonio Coronel, a muleteer and said to him, "Son, do you know how to prepare a remedy for the wound in my foot and leg?"

The muleteer answered him: "Father, what remedy could I know of? Do you think I am a surgeon? I'm a muleteer; I've healed only the sores of animals."

"Well then, son, just imagine me to be an mule and that this wound is the sore of an animal from which has developed this swelling of the leg and the great pains I experience, which permit me neither to rest nor to sleep. Make me the same remedy which you would apply to an animal."

The muleteer smiled, as did the rest who heard the answer. He replied: "Father, I shall do so in order to please you." He obtained a little tallow and crushed it between two stones and mixed it with herbs from the field which he found round about; and when he had fried this, he applied it to the foot and leg, and left the application of both materials on the wound in the form of a plaster. God worked in such a way that Father Serra slept that night through till morning and that he awoke so relieved from his pain and wound that he arose to say Matins and Prime as he customarily did. And, these prayers finished, he said Mass as if he had not suffered any such trouble. The governor and the rest of the soldiers were surprised on seeing the Venerable Father so suddenly well, and relieved that in order to go on with the expedition not the least delay had to be made on his account."

Fr. Serra himself says little about it in his diary. Under the date of May 17th, and referring to a place named San Juan de Dios, he writes simply,

"I said Mass there, but I had much trouble in standing on my feet, because the left one was much inflamed. For a year now, and more, I have been suffering considerably, and by now the swelling has reached halfway up my leg, which is covered with sores. That is why for the rest of the time we stayed here, I had to lie prostrate most of the time on my bed, and I was afraid that before long I should have to follow the expedition on a stretcher."

On May 18th he notes that, "Our stay there continued, but I could not say Mass for the aforesaid reason."

That is all. There is no mention of the cure by the muleteer, about which Fray Palóu learned later from members of the expedition. But, in a letter to Fray Palóu, Serra says:

"As I crossed the frontier, my leg and foot were in bad shape. But God was good to me. Every day, I felt better and kept up with the day's marches just as if nothing were wrong with me. At the present time, the foot is completely well as the other; but from the ankle half way up the leg, it is like the foot was before - one large wound, but without swelling or pain except a certain amount of itching. Anyway, it is a matter of little moment,"

Friar Maynard J. Geiger, O.F.M., who has written the life of Junipero Serra for the Academy of American Franciscan History, believes that Fr. Serra rode his mule the entire distance. Yet, in the many accounts of Father Serra's life I have read, it is continually stated that Father Serra refused to ride at any time, always going afoot. [Sigh. Who does one believe?]

As they traveled north, the land changed from stinging, arid desert to land more green and pleasant, streams to provide water for men and animals alike. At last, on June 20, 1769, they reached a big bay overlooking the vast Pacific. That is the modern town of Ensenada, 80 miles south of present-day San Diego. For the rest of the journey, they kept as close to the coast as possible, generally following the route of the present-day highway, until finally, Sergeant Ortega and a companion were sent ahead to take word to San Diego of their impending arrival. On June 27th, at Rosarito, they met an Indian dressed in blue cotton, which could only mean he had come from San Diego. The Indian gave the joyous news that their goal was less than two days ahead and that he had met the sergeant and his companion on the road. The next morning, the sound of pounding hoofs heralded the return of the sergeant with ten soldiers and fresh horses sent by Captain Rivera. They carried letters for Fray Serra from Frays Crespí and Parron. Governor Portolá decided to push on ahead, while Serra and the main body of the expedition followed more slowly.

A California Live Oak

Father Serra would spend the next fifteen years tramping from one end of California to the other, from San Diego to San Francisco and back again. As indicated above, I have not read a single account where this humble man went except afoot. When his central mission, San Carlos Borromeo, was founded, he lived in a small cell, a simple cot upon to lay his head, a small desk and chair on which to maintain records, keep accounts, and write correspondence to his superiors. When away, he often slept on the floor or ground and ate the simplest of meals, usually a gruel, infrequently with pieces of fruit or fish. His one and only vice was a rare cup of hot, bitter chocolate.

It has been a pleasure for yours truly to learn of this remarkable man's life. Yes, he was stubborn, opinionated, a zealot. But he never let ego swell his head or forget that his one and only responsibility was to follow the rules of the Order of Friars Minor and to look over the natives who he honestly believed to be his wards – and children.

The outpouring of grief displayed at his passing was the truest tribute to his amazing little man's beliefs and efforts. The missions may have once faded and fallen to ruin, but they have been restored and stand as testimony to Miguel Joseph Serra's life – a life that has drawn the Roman Catholic Church to consider him for sainthood.

As a non-Catholic, I believe he deserves it. As do many of his fellow Franciscans who toiled to help create his legacy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Some Personal Thoughts About Father Serra

I am going to reshare Part III of my blog post about the reverend father. But first, I thought I'd say some things about him that seem appropriate here.

A young farm boy who has never been healthy listens to the Franciscan friars at the church near his home. How and why he came upon the idea of leaving the farm to study scriptures and become a priest is probably somewhere in the archives of the prodigious letters he wrote – and certainly told to us by his boyhood friends, Juan Crespí, Francisco Palóu, Rafael Verger, and Guillermo Vicens.

If there is any one thing I've learned about Serra, it was his unshaken determination to carry out anything he made up his mind to do. He was too small to see over the podium to lead prayers or give the homily, so he piled up large tomes so he could do so. He got the idea that his mission in life would be to minister to the Gentiles – as the Indians were known – in the New World. There were no immediate openings, but fate came to his aid, and five slots opened up for he and his friends.

18th Century sea voyages were certainly not pleasure cruises. Ships of the day had little in the way of conveniences as we know them, relieving oneself was done by crawling through a hole in the bow and hanging over the passing ocean. Cleansing was done with cold sea water. The food was dull, often little more than heavily salted dried beef or sheep followed by stone-hard biscuits. As there was no way of keeping things from spoiling, what fresh water that didn't spoil in the casks was added to rum for the standard grog. They went through a period where water was doled out only once in every 24 hours. Serra never complained and when asked why, is reported to have said, "I have found a remedy for this thirst, it is to eat very little and to talk less—it does not waste the saliva."

None of this deterred Serra. In fact, he almost got thrown overboard with the constant arguments he had with the Protestant captain of the ship.

He arrived at Vera Cruz and was told he would have to wait to continue on to the college of San Fernando in Mexico City, Waiting was not in his manner and he, along with one other friar, set out on foot for the 100 league journey. The country was sparsely settled, the pueblos were long distances apart and chance travelers few. But these difficulties were as nothing to Fray Junipero's vehement will and courage. He went on his way joyfully. The roads were rough, the weather at times bitterly cold or intensely hot. Without proper preparations to meet these climatic variations, without sufficient food, and quite as often without water to quench their thirst, the friars plodded doggedly on. 

If one reads his biography, it is told that he met someone along the way who gave the two friars food and water. Later travelers said there was nobody on the road or any place to stop for food and water. Perhaps a miracle? 

We know how Serra's leg swelled up, great ulcers forming. It would've stopped any other man, but not him. He was going to Mexico City and that was it. He almost met The Lord three times along the way, but his faith and stubbornness carried him through. It was New Year's morning, 1750, when he limped wearily into the City of Mexico, just eight months and a half from the day he left Majorca.

What is it that drives anybody to such extremes? Some who scoff will call it fanaticism, superstitious beliefs, and general mania. Those are the ones who go through life not believing in anyone or anything. In Serra's case, it was his unshaken belief in the teachings of the Catholic church and that it was his mission to bring the story of everlasting life to all who would listen.

Many say his near-fanatical obsession with his mission made him a cruel taskmaster, From what I've read, he learned from his parents and followed their example throughout his life. He looked upon the natives, in the Sierra Gorda mountains of Mexico and throughout California, as his children. He loved them as a parent and, as such, felt it his duty to set them on the right path in life. Also, as a parent of his time, he firmly believed that he should set an example for them and, as he would punish himself for his failings, so did he with those who came to the missions and accepted The Word of God. He never expected them to reach his level of commitment, only to do their best with his care and guidance.

We are talking about the age of Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child.

If he was hard on himself, he was just as hard with the other friars and the military assigned to protect them and expand Spain's control in the New World. He never hesitated to chide any of them from private soldiers to governors for what he saw as cruel or inappropriate treatment of “his children.” He actually fought to have one governor removed and excommunicated another.

I often wonder how Serra felt upon his deathbed. He had been stopped from Founding Misión Santa Barbara by lack of funds and a governor's determination that a military installation was more important. He had not been able to establish even one-half of the missions planned and given sites. He knew many Indians waited eagerly for a mission near where they lived and, during his extensive trips up and down the lengths of California, would stop to minister to them.

And, as I've indicated elsewhere, I wonder what he would think of being considered for sainthood as well as the so-called controversies surrounding it.

Saint or Sinner?

I'm certain Reverend Father Serra thought of himself as a weak man who committed many sins. I also believe he would be horrified at the thought of being made a saint.

With that, Part III of Father Serra will come next.