The Spanish Missions have been revered with pride throughout the American Southwest. Missionary priests like Father Eusebio Francisco Kino ("The Padre on Horseback"), Blessed Junipero Serra, Fray Francisco Hermengildo Garces, Franciscan Fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain, Juan Bautista Llorenz and many others left the safety of their homes, mostly in Spain, and expended their lives in the laborious establishment of these treasures throughout the area. Some met their fate by violent means. These friars not only brought the light of Christ to the New World but also, on the natural level, an improved way of life to the Native Americans composed of both New and Old World elements.
In California, a total of 146 Friars Minor, all of whom were ordained as priests served in California between 1769–1845. The Franciscans introduced agriculture to the Indians. The principal products of the field were wheat, barley, corn, beans, and peas. Orange and olive trees were planted and vines were cultivated. Water was brought from the mountain creeks to irrigate the fields and for domestic use. Nearly half of the missionaries died at their posts - two as martyrs: Father Luis Jayme and Father Andres Quintana.
In Arizona, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, (founder of The San Xavier del Bac Mission - affectionately known as "The White Dove of the Desert" and "The Sistine Chapel of the New World", pictured at top) was not only the first to prove that Baja California was a peninsula, but was noted for the good relations he established with the indigenous peoples with whom he worked. He treated the Pimas with respect and learned their language. By helping the various Piman groups to come together to resist the fierce Apache tribes, Kino brought peace and security to the Pimería. In turn, the Pimas and other tribal groups affectionately regarded Kino as a leader and advocate. When a tragic misunderstanding resulted in the Pima Revolt of 1695, it was Kino who brought an end to hostilities and reestablished peace.
One fact that is widely known about Kino is that he fought hard for the Sonoran Indians, opposing the hard labor in silver mines that the Spaniards had imposed on them. Today, if you visit his shrine in Magdalena, Sonora, you can sense the devotion people still offer to Father Kino - the hero Padre of the Pimeria Alta. After Father Kino died in 1711 they built a statue of him and he was called Father of Arizona. Then, in recognition of his importance, the state of Arizona honored his memory in 1965 by placing his statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol Building as representative of the state. He has been honored both in Mexico and the United States, with various towns, streets, monuments, and geographic features named after him. There's even a cooking recipe for special occasions to honor his memory.
By the end of his missionary career he had established 27 missions and visitas (country chapels) and opened the overland route to California. He drew the first accurate maps of Primeria Alta, the Gulf of California, and Baja California.Through his contribution of new crops, especially wheat, and domesticated animals such as cattle and sheep, Fr. Kino set up the foundation for modern agriculture and livestock raising. He also promoted apprenticeships of artisans and similar trades. His quest for a better life for the native peoples of New Spain inspired dozens of expeditions across the deserts.
Another legacy of Father Kino, as recorded in historical archives from the National Park Service, reveals an independent interest by the Indians to continue the Catholic Faith even after the Friars withdrew. At Tumacacori Mission, near Nogales, Arizona, while the bell tower was still under construction, one of Father Kino's successors, Father Liberos, was sent back to Spain in 1828 after Mexico gained her independence. Tumacacori never again had a resident priest. Nevertheless, the faith to the remaining Indians was important enough that the Pimas continued to live there and worked to complete the bell tower on their own.
Unfortunately, there are many secular sources bashing the Spanish Missionaries with hit and run smears against them. The false claim is that the Church, conspiring with the Spanish Government, desired political power and tortured, enslaved, subjected, and pacified the aboriginal Indians to achieve their 'domineering, worldly ambitions'. This is false. Indians were placed under civil jurisdiction not church authority. Nevertheless the Church today is falsely blamed for the mistreatment of Indians by civil authorities.
The purpose of such movements are not to unveil injustices of centuries past that must be righted - the true target is the Divine Truths. Revisionists believe that by conjuring false, or at least greatly exaggerated, claims against the Church 300 years later, their claims will go unchecked and fool the vast majority of the naive and gullible. They are guilty of the very thing they accuse the Church of. By forcefully lying to their readers about the Spanish Missions to enhance their anti-Catholic agenda, they are only dishonoring themselves and the truth. Their intent is not to correct a 'wrong' from the ancient past, their ultimate target is the Faith Itself which, to their dismay, is still alive despite all the world's failed attempts to crush It.
The case for canonizing the Spanish Franciscan missionary priest, Blessed Junipero Serra is the target today. Headlines in the popular press are rashly asking the question "Saint or Sinner?" Instead of slandering a 300 year old Catholic historical figure, those so willing to tie a noose around the past should be more thorough in their study of history. A brief look at the accounts of Junipero Serra's life reveal his virtue.
After entering the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, Miguel Jose Serra took a new first name, Junipero, that of St. Francis' beloved original companion friar. Blessed Junipero Serra arrived in California in 1769 as a leader of what was called the Sacred Expedition. He founded California's nine first missions and presided over the mission system. Dr. David Hornbeck, professor of historical geography at California State University, Northridge said this of Fr. Serra's accomplishments:
"I look at him more as a leader in a sense of his extraordinary administrative ability, and his ability to coordinate the settlement of a whole new frontier. He did it all by himself... If he'd done that for Kentucky, if Father Serra had been Daniel Boone or any one of the sort of folk heroes that we have, well, their feats are exaggerated way beyond what they actually did. Yet, we have somebody here who took a whole brand new frontier, didn't know anything about it, and in four years had taken and converted it to a functioning, organized frontier." (1)By completely ignoring his accomplishments (even by secular standards) of introducing agriculture and irrigation systems, pressing for a system of law to protect California's Native Americans against the abuses of Spanish soldiers, and creating a network of roads - all worthy accomplishments - many secularists are massing opposition to his canonization. Their ultimate aim is for non-Catholics to cast doubt on the Church Itself.
However, not all in the secular field agree that Fr. Serra was the tyrant the popular media accuse him of being. Dr. Iris Engstrand, professor and chair of the Department of History at the University of San Diego says:
"We know Father Serra's life from the time he was born, where he was trained, what he thought and what he did. He wasn't out there saying, 'Wow, look at all these Indians. Let's whip them into shape.' He was physically there, he worked hard, worked 18 hours a day. He was much nicer to the Indians, really, than even to the governors. 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."Dr. Michael Mathes, Professor of history at the University of San Francisco says,
. . ". . . He was a very caring person and forgiving. Even after the burning of the mission in San Deigo, he did not want those Indians punished. He wanted to be sure that they were treated fairly. . . " (1)
"criticism [by the Spanish government] of Serra revolves around the fact that he was too much involved in the care and treatment of the Indians, that he would not allow soldiers to mingle with the Indians. He didn't want these people (the Indians) to be tainted with any possible immoral activities that the soldiers might be involved with. . . . These were the complaints of the government, of the civil governors: that Serra was such a fanatical missionary that he really didn't want to cooperate with the civilian government, that his first concern was the taking care of his mission. Criticism of Serra is really a boomerang against anybody that would say Serra was a 'bad person ,' because the criticism of him supports the theory that he was a dedicated missionary, He may not have been much of a diplomat or civil servant, but he was one fine missionary." (1)In 1773, difficulties with Pedro Fages, the military commander, compelled Father Serra to travel to Mexico City to argue before Viceroy Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua for the removal of Fages as the Governor of California Nueva. Those difficulties involved his outspoken opposition to the cruelty of the Spaniard military towards the California Indians whom Junipero was Father for.
Dr. Gloria Miranda, an historian who is associate professor and chair of the Chicano Studies Department at Los Angeles Valley College and who is working on a book about the pioneering family during Father Serra's time says:
"He clearly saw the need for stability on the frontier. He was also very zealous in his protection of the tribes that he was working with. Often some of the soldiers who came north were not the best role models to imitate.
. . He is as much a pioneer of the West as the pioneers we cherish in U. S. history. Not only because he introduced a faith -- he was a colonizer, an explorer, a man of great determination. Not that many people come around in history.
. . His age is much more amazing. And his illness, his physical limitations. He was a very humble man, too. With his credentials, he could have had a very nice cloistered life, but he chose a life of hardship, which is very much apostolic, I think." (1)
Finally, Fr. Francis F. Guest, O. F.M., director of the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library notes that:
When Interstate 280 was built in stages from Daly City to San Jose in the 1960's, it was named the Junipero Serra Freeway. There is also a statue of Serra along the freeway in Hillsborough, California. The statue stands on a hill on the northbound side and has a large pointing finger facing the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific. Both Spain and the United States have honored Serra with postage stamps and a statue of Friar Junipero Serra represents the state of California in the National Statuary Hall alongside Father Eusebio Kino."He was a man who was not really interested in fame or in honor, or in being held in high regard by the government or by the Viceroys, or by anyone. He was simply interested in doing his spiritual work and if somebody else got the credit for it, he was not concerned one way or the other.. . To me, this was an act of extraordinary virtue, extraordinary generosity. It might even be called magnanimity. He was very big-hearted in his love for the Indians, in his love for his work and his dedication to his work. He had very pure intentions. I think that this was an act of virtue on his part, which would merit him very high praise from historians who studied his life from this viewpoint." (1)
Mission Santa Barbara
Modernists hate when a Catholic is canonized a Saint. When the Church canonizes a Saint, heaven rejoices, the Church ignites veneration to a heavenly companion, and the devil cowers. When the Cause for the Canonization of Saints opened the case to consider Pope Pius XII, the secularists went mad. When the case was opened for Mother Teresa of Calcutta's beatification, the secularists went mad. Even when Cardinal Josef Ratzinger was elected the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, yep, you guessed it, the secularists went mad. In this age, however, the worldly throw their temper tantrums disguised as 'intellectual reflection'. This is the new form of persecution against the Catholic Church. Secularists know too well that we're up on our Church history with our Martyrology so they need a new approach.
Like a desperate offensive line in the last seconds of a game, the secularists of the new age must try something nobody has seen before to achieve their end result: persecution. To achieve this result they need a play that their anti-Catholic historical heroes never devised. For example, when the secular Mexican government took over the missions after the Mexican Congress passed An Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California on August 17, 1833, over time, the civil administration resulted in a deterioration of lifestyle and buildings. On March 18, 1865 Abraham Lincoln restored the Missions to the Catholic Church. What secularists in the Mexican Government tried didn't work as masses are still said, sometimes daily, at the Spanish Missions. The persecutions of Diocletian, Galerius, or Decius are too typical and, to the modern secular elitist, too barbaric, too messy. So in order to fool the world and appear as civilized, rational, and just opponents of the Church, they must adopt the strategy that makes them look like sophisticated philosophical heroes, ridding the world of 'ignorance' and 'intolerance' - what rash secularists wrongfully see in the Catholic expression and in the Church's history.
Whether the modern persecution of Christ is in the form of doctored history, far-fetched novels, cinematic screenplays, or children's coloring books, the truth ultimately prevails. In this case the facts of the Spanish Missionaries speak for themselves. Opinion against the Church, with distortions and lies leveled against Her is simply not enough to destroy Christ who is Her Head.