I’ve been reflecting about how we are all heirs of America’s first evangelization.
The Christian faith was brought to this land by Spanish missionaries centuries before the American Revolution. And I have been reading some of the history of our state and region.
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, a Catholic from Spain, was the first to explore our California coast in 1542. He brought a priest and sailed in a ship he called San Salvador (“The Savior”). Sixty years later, Sebastián Vizcaíno brought Franciscan priests with him to explore Southern California.
This history tells us that Jesus Christ was calling America to faith long before this country even had a name. His Gospel was being proclaimed in California in the Spanish tongue long before the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower. The Mass was being celebrated here years before the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
On July 4, we remember the anniversary of our country’s founding. A few days before that, on July 1, we celebrate the memorial of Blessed Junípero Serra, the Franciscan missionary known as the Apostle of California.
I believe American Catholics need to begin to see how these memorials belong together. America’s story starts with those Spanish missionaries. Our national character and identity are deeply marked by the Gospel values they brought to this land.
Just look at a map and think of how many places are named in Spanish for saints, sacraments, and articles of our faith. We have Santa Cruz (“Holy Cross”) and Sacramento (“Holy Sacrament”). Our own great metropolis was founded as El Pueblo de Neustra Señora de Los Angeles de Porciuncula — named for St. Francis of Assisi’s chapel to Our Lady of the Angels.
Although it was founded by Christians, America has become home to an amazing diversity of cultures, religions and ways of life. This diversity flourishes precisely because our nation’s founders had a Christian vision of the human person, freedom, and truth. It is a basic American belief that men and women are created equal — with God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This vision is part of the beautiful legacy that Fray Junípero Serra and his fellow missionaries left us with, along with the missions they established along El Camino Real, the King’s Highway. This missionary legacy is now a part of our identity and duty as the Church of Los Angeles.
California was among the first outposts for the evangelization of America. California must now become a leader in the new evangelization of our country. From the beginning, Los Angeles been a meeting place of indigenous and immigrant cultures. We sit at the crossroads of continents — uniting North and South America and opening the Americas to Asia and the Pacific Rim.
In our new evangelization we must be an icon of what God intends his Church to be — one family of God that joins peoples of many colors, races, nationalities and languages. Blessed Junípero used to trace the sign of the cross on people’s foreheads and say to them, Ama a Dios! Love God! In our new evangelization we too must bring the signs of God’s love to our city and world.
In the spirit of St. Francis, we must be missionaries of mercy and apostles of reconciliation in our culture. Blessed Junípero once wrote: “Missions, my Lord! Missions! That is what this country needs! Missions will … provide this country with what is most important — the light of the Holy Gospel.”
The light of the Gospel is still what is most important for America. For that, our country needs each one of us to be missionaries. Let us rededicate ourselves to our duty to evangelize.
So as we pray for one another this week, let us pray for the moral and spiritual renewal of our great country. Let us ask the patron of this great Archdiocese, Our Lady of the Angels, to help renew in us our desire to invite others to know Jesus Christ and the power of his love.
Through our Christian witness let us build a new King’s Highway — a new pathway of love upon which we can walk with our brother and sisters in friendship with our risen Lord.