God may often send us challenges, but he always offers us his mercy and grace.

That is how I feel about this past year. We have suffered in so many ways under this pandemic. But we have also felt God’s mercy and love, and experienced so many graces.

Now, as our society is turning the corner on this pandemic, I am excited to announce that this summer we will start a Jubilee Year to mark the 250th anniversary of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, the first church founded in what is now the metropolis of Los Angeles, on Sept. 8, 1771. 

What we celebrate on this anniversary is the planting of the family of God here in Los Angeles, and the beginnings of his kingdom in America.

San Gabriel Mission was our city’s spiritual heart from its founding. The mission was already 10 years old when the diverse band of settlers, known as “Los Pobladores,” processed nine miles from the mission to establish Los Angeles near present-day Olvera Street, on Sept. 4, 1781.

Los Angeles was originally called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula (“The Town of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula”), named for the little chapel where St. Francis of Assisi first heard the call of Jesus.

In this jubilee year, we need to reconnect with that original spirit of holiness and adventure, the spirit of that first generation of mystics, missionaries, and migrants.

San Gabriel Mission was founded by a Franciscan missionary saint, St. Junípero Serra.

We should know our saint’s story, his words, and witness. We should pray to have that same depth of faith and love that caused St. Junípero to leave his family and homeland behind to follow Jesus Christ and proclaim his Gospel in the new world of the Americas.

This jubilee reminds us that in God’s plan of salvation, our city and state — this entire country — was born from the Christian mission. Together with the first peoples of this land, God intended his Church to grow and to build his kingdom in this new world.

The first encounters between the Spaniards and the indigenous peoples of California were tense, made worse by the cruel contempt of Spanish soldiers and settlers.

But when the Gabrieleno-Tongva Indians first met the Franciscans in the San Gabriel Valley, they were captivated by a painting the missionaries were carrying.

In the face of this image of Our Lady of Sorrows, the natives laid down their weapons and offered their hospitality and friendship. Working alongside the missionaries, they built a new culture and way of life.

For most of the past 250 years that painting, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, hung in the baptistry of the mission church.

When the devastating fire swept through the mission last summer, by some miracle of grace, this painting survived. Weeks after the fire, on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Sept. 15, workers discovered it buried beneath the debris, largely unharmed.

I have no doubt that this mysterious artwork will be fully restored as we inaugurate the jubilee year this September.

Every jubilee is a season of mercy, a time for opening our hearts to receive the gift of God’s mercy, a time for proclaiming God’s mercy to the world, and for sharing his mercy with one another.

My prayer is that all of us in the Church will seize this new moment that we have to share God’s love and salvation, and to be a light to our nation.

In this divided and polarized time in our society, I believe the story of San Gabriel Mission holds a “message” for America.

The first families of Los Angeles, who came from the mission, included men and women of African, Hispanic, native, and European descent. From this beginning a radiant Church was born, a Church that today worships and serves in some 40 languages.

In this jubilee, let us commit ourselves again to making our Church a sign of God’s mercy and and his intentions for the human family.

Let us proclaim what the first missionaries proclaimed — God’s love for every person; the dignity and equality of every race and people; the truth that we are all God’s sons and daughters, made in his image and destined to share his glory.

Pray for me and I will pray for you. And let us entrust ourselves to the Queen of the Angels and Our Lady of Sorrows.

Our city and nation — and all the Americas — were born under Mary’s maternal care and protection.

In December of this jubilee year, we will celebrate the 490th anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe apparitions, which were the true spiritual founding of the Americas.

Let us ask Our Lady to give us all a new heart for mission and mercy.