Saturday, November 21, 2015

El Camino Real Part 3

The historic Washington DC Holy Mass by Pope Francis canonized Friar Junipero Serra (1713-1784) 230 years after his death. Fr. Serra, the name dominated in California as the founder of 21 missions, especially the very first “Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala” and the inspiration for today’s MLB baseball team, “San Diego Padres” - the Swinging Friars.

What would my San Diego friend, late historian and newspaper writer Art Ribbel and his wife Virginia Ribbel say? Perhaps, “It’s been a long time coming.” He wrote, “The San Diego River is hard by El Camino Real, the Highway of the King, one of the oldest traveled roads in America”. Virginia Ribbel sent me a special collection of Art's San Diego Union articles and I found her sketch in it of Fr. Serra. At one time, we were both residents of Carlsbad.

I remember there were two stories, maybe called “Junipero miracles.” One was Fr. Serra’s 250 mile piety trek from Veracruz to Mexico City through mountain trails. That was one of his hardest trips, which not only injured his leg permanently, but his party lost their way and found themselves starving. They found a distant light to which they were drawn. The couple they met treated them to dinner and lodging. The following day they were told there were no such good Samaritans in the vicinity. The other story told of how Fr. Serra was originally going to San Antonio Mission before he elected to head for California. San Antonio was attacked by Apaches and he would have been there. These were his life saving miracles.

Having resided in California for more than 20 years and visited almost all the missions, it is quicker to name the missions not visited. They are Mission San Antonio Padua, and Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. I hope I can finally visit them on my next visit. I was lucky that my daughter’s family was in Santa Barbara. As I visited them, I was able to visit missions close by on the way.

Later they moved to Thousand Oaks and there we visited together and strolled the beautiful 4.5 acre Garden of the World across the Civic Arts Center. It has an Italian fountain, English Rose Garden, Japanese Koi pond, and what they call a California Mission Courtyard. You can go around the Courtyard to see the fabulous paintings of 21 California Missions on the walls.

Regarding the controversy of Fr. Serra, I wish to follow Pope Francis’ “rejoice” homily that Fr. Serra left his native land and its way of life. “He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life.” Pope Francis continued “Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.” As the first Latino pope, the act of canonizing Fr. Serra is an international statement about Francis’ own identity and his role as a leader in the new world and for a new church.

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