Following in the Footsteps of Missionaries: Weekly Message for 06/26/2018

Dear Friends in Christ,

Although this Sunday is the Thirteenth in Ordinary time it is also the Memorial of St. Junipero Serra. I’m a California boy, and the summer after his canonization I had the opportunity to pray at his tomb at the Carmel Mission Basilica (in Carmel, CA), which is in my home diocese of Monterey. St. Junipero reminds us that the evangelization carried out by so many missionaries through the centuries transcends cultures and geo-political boundaries. In 1776, as the United States was being born in the East, 3000 miles away, the “Apostle of California” was establishing missions in the West, and may have never imagined the United States of America would one day benefit spiritually from his efforts.

Towns in California with Spanish names, such as San Diego, Carmel, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Soledad, San Jose, San Juan Bautista, and Sonoma were named for the missions that were founded there. San Diego was the first, founded by St. Junipero Serra (Basilica San Diego de Alcala in 1769), and Sonoma, the last and northernmost, in 1823 (San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, founded by Father Jose Altimira). Of the twenty-one missions founded, some still are parishes, including the first mission in San Diego and the one where St. Junipero died (in 1784) and was laid to rest in Carmel.

I admit that when I drove through Silicon Valley as a young man the Camino Real (the King’s Way, referring to the King of Spain back when the Spanish came to California) didn’t mean much, or the Catholic roots of any of these towns. Recalling my visit to St. Junipero’s tomb reminds me that the Gospel my parents transmitted to me is the same Gospel St. Junipero brought to the natives of California. The mission he founded in Monterey, CA, is now at the center of the diocese of Monterey, the diocese where I too was nourished by the faith. His work of spreading the Gospel continues.

Why not do a little asking this week about the initial evangelization of your hometown? You are the beneficiary of those first missionaries, no matter what the vicissitudes of history. The world needs missionaries even today. We shouldn’t just trace the footsteps of the missionaries; we should follow in their footsteps, setting out into new frontiers of evangelization. It may not necessarily involve walking hundreds of miles, as St. Junipero Serra did, or bringing the Gospel to new cultures, but it will involve sharing the Gospel in new circumstances, in the face of new challenges, and using means St. Junipero Serra couldn’t have even imagined.

May the missionaries who have preceded us intercede for us as we continue to share the Gospel they spread so tirelessly.

Father Nikola Derpich, L.C.

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