Ever since the founding of these United States, our passion as Christians has been to send missionaries abroad to the far reaches of the world to proclaim Jesus’ wondrous love and salvation: be it to New Guinea, the Congo or China.
Prior to our nation’s birth, the North American Continent was the distant mission field of Christian missionaries from the Old World of Europe. From England and France soul seekers braved the raging waters of the North Atlantic to reach their colonial settlements in New England and Eastern Canada.
Even earlier, Spanish missionaries stepped ashore further south and west into the Americas along with Spain’s conquistadors who were commissioned by the Spanish Crown to claim the distant land for “New Spain.”
After a grueling voyage lasting 99 days across the Atlantic he arrived in 1749 in port at Vera Cruz, Mexico. From there he continued on foot inland for 200 miles to begin his work building missions northward.
Finally, in 1769, at age 56, Serra crossed over into Alta California, (which in 1850 became America’s 31st state). Until his death in 1784, he laid the foundations of Christianity in this uncharted territory beginning with his first baptism of an Indian infant. In one mission alone, San Carlos Borromeo, a total of 1,041 Indian baptisms had been performed by the time of his passing.
Today his statue stands in the United States Capitol in Washington, DC to represent the State of California, the only non-American so honored. He is recognized as the Founder of California itself, because of the communities and major cities that grew up from around the missions he planted: in particular, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Junipero Serra Before California
I was privileged to join four other American journalists on a press trip to his birthplace in the village of Petra on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca. Our visit was planned to launch the 300th anniversary celebration of Father Serra’s birth in 2013. (Our group photo even ran in three island newspapers during our stay.)
The year-long festivities call for pilgrimage groups from Spain to visit Serra’s California missions while Californian Christians journey to Mallorca to pay homage at the birthplace of the founder and builder of their treasured mission landmarks.
We were escorted through Petra by Bartolome Bestard Bone, President of the Association of the Friends of Father Junipero Serra. A devote Christian and born on Mallorca, he served as the island’s US Consul for 45 years, though not a US citizen himself, a first for the State Department.
Highlights included touring the museum established in Serra’s honor and the three-room adobe abode of his childhood: a candle-lit family room and two bedrooms, the largest serving as the stable for the family burro!
From these humble beginnings, Serra, at age 36, answered the Holy Spirit’s call taking him from the life style he earned with great effort to become a university theology professor to joining the mission field from which he would never return.
His utmost goal was the winning of new souls for Christ in the Americas among the native Indian population. In so doing, he built missions to attract and to better the lives of his new flock through worship, education and agriculture.
May we like the saintly Serra, answer God’s calling for our lives in service to others and some day hear His words, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your Lord.” Matthew 25:21
- by Dave Bartruff