During a prayer service commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, Archbishop José H. Gomez quoted the prophet Isaiah, who directed the faithful to “look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the quarry from which you were taken.”

Pausing a beat before an estimated 800 seated in the mission’s parking lot on Wednesday, Sept. 8, Archbishop Gomez added, “Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is our rock.”

Indeed, the mission’s founding in 1771 by Franciscan brothers, led by St. Junípero Serra, would eventually lead to the founding of the city and Archdiocese of Los Angeles and 288 present-day parishes.

The anniversary is so significant that Wednesday’s service was a kickoff to what the archdiocese is calling its “Forward In Mission” Jubilee Year, encouraging spiritual renewal. On Thursday, Sept. 9, 22 pilgrimage sites in churches all over Southern California opened to welcome anyone wanting to pray “with the intention of uniting themselves with the missionary spirit of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization, and St. Junípero Serra, founder of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel.” 

On Wednesday, a broad swath of worshippers were in attendance. The evening’s Prayer of the Faithful provided a picture of the archdiocese’s diverse makeup, as more than a half-dozen people, each representing a distinct culture, led the group in prayer, each in their own language.

Catholics from around the Archdiocese of Los Angeles offered Prayers of the Faithful in different languages. (Victor Alemán)

Attendees sat in the shadow of the mission church, which was badly damaged last year when it fell victim to an arsonist. Mission officials expect the church to be fully repaired and renovated by next spring. 

Opening the service were members of the Gabrieleno San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians. They offered blessings and songs in remembrance of their ancestors who built the mission. More than 6,000 mission Indians are buried there, making it “a sacred place to us,” said Chief Anthony Morales.

A long line of people showed up to be seated more than an hour before the service was scheduled to begin. The turnout was so large that organizers found themselves scrambling to put out extra chairs. Ironically, the mission was only able to accommodate such a large crowd because the church is unusable — it can only seat about 200 people. 

Father Parker Sandoval, who helped organize the service, said he believed the enthusiasm for the event was fueled by “a time of crisis, where we live with an onslaught of bad news. Our people of faith come here to remember the good news of God’s love for us that first came to this land 250 years ago. That’s worth commemorating; that’s worth celebrating.”