More than 230 years after its founding, Mission San Buenaventura hosted a combined celebration Nov. 21 that recognized Christ’s call to evangelize —yesterday, today and always.
The Ventura parish — founded on Easter Sunday, 1782 by St. Junipero Serra — celebrated its missionary-founder’s recent canonization, beginning with a four-block-long procession and concluding with a Mass that required overflow seating in the parish hall to accommodate nearly 1,000 attendees.
The Mass also included a rite for the official installation of Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron as Santa Barbara Region bishop. Clergy, religious and laity representing the 37 parishes of the region (which includes Santa Barbara and Ventura counties) accorded their new episcopal vicar a standing ovation, led by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez who presided.
The Mass was among the first in a 150-day series of events to be included in the City of Ventura’s (officially, San Buenaventura) 150th anniversary celebration, set to culminate next April 2. Ventura Mayor Cheryl Heitman, reading a proclamation near the end of the celebration, acknowledged the mission’s vital role in leading to the establishment of the city.
She also paid tribute to the Chumash community, the original settlers of the region, as well as to Father Serra, whose canonization has been criticized by some because of mistreatment of Native Americans that occurred when Spain sought to colonize and Christianize California in the 18th century.
In last Saturday evening’s celebration, Chumash community leaders Redstar and Gregory Sandoval led an opening invocation and prayer at the beginning of the procession, held at the historic San Miguel Chapel site several blocks from the mission. Once the procession reached the church, the Chumash representatives led a “purification blessing,” a cleansing ritual designed to establish “positive energy, clarity of thought, healing and a blessing of the elements,” said Redstar.
“We are all here as children of God,” Redstar told the packed assembly — more than 300 in the compact church and hundreds more in the parish hall viewing a live-streamed broadcast. “Our Father, our creator loves us so much, and no matter what happens, we should always love each other. Thank you for letting us be part of this celebration.”
He and Sandoval then embraced Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Barron as the assembly applauded.
In his homily, Archbishop Gomez emphasized how Father Serra’s mission nary ministry of evangelization must be emulated by all who wish to follow Jesus, in a way worthy of the Lord.
“My brothers and sisters, Jesus did not rule by violence or power,” he said. “The kingdom of God is a kingdom of love and truth. Unfortunately, some who came to the New World did not act that way. They believed they had come here to dominate, and sadly they hurt people. St. Serra was not one of these people; he came as an apostle of love and mercy. He worked in this new land to bring the love of God to all people.”
And this, the archbishop said, “is the beautiful commission all of us have: to continue the work of St. Junipero Serra. Each of us are called to be missionaries like Serra, to show by our words and actions that God is real and present in our lives.”
Bishop Barron’s installation included affirmations of support from the Santa Barbara Region office staff, regional council, and deans, clergy and ministers of the region. In his remarks of acceptance, the bishop — a seminary professor in the Archdiocese of Chicago until his episcopal appointment in July by Pope Francis — also cited the example of Serra as a model for all disciples.
“Father Serra was an academic, a teacher leading a good, fairly comfortable life in Spain — and at age 35, he left it all behind to become a missionary priest in a New World,” he noted. “Saints are able to discern this call on their own — but all of us are called to evangelize and proclaim Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, as our Lord and savior, the king to whom we owe our final allegiance.”
Among the attendees at the Mass — who were introduced by Father Tom Elewaut, Mission pastor — were Fathers Lucio Sanchez Loya, pastor, and Father Martin Mata of Mission Our Lady of Loreto in Loreto, Mexico (the first permanent mission in Baja California Sur, founded in 1697), and Mayor Arely Arce of Loreto, Ventura’s sister city.