I am an American Indian, one whose ancestors are in California’s history by way of Mission San Diego, the first mission founded by Fr. Serra, Mission San Luis Rey and Mission San Gabriel. These missions hold the bones of my ancestors. These missions, by way of Father Junipero Serra lead my ancestors, my family, to the Catholic church, the church for which I serve as a deacon today.
Being a lineal of the San Pasqual Band of California Mission Indians, Kumeyaay, I have heard and debated the stories with other Native Americans about the role Fr. Serra and the Spanish soldiers played regarding the treatment of American Indians, the indigenous people he came upon during his exploration and development of the Mission system. The rhetoric was heightened when Pope Francis announced he would Canonize Fr. Serra during his visit to the United States.
For years I have seen my people wrestle and struggle with recognition as individuals and as a people. This event was an opportunity for the beginning of a healing journey for my people, if healing is what we are looking for. This trip included my wife, Rosanne, Father Earl Henley (Diocesan Director of Native American Ministry), Deacon Manny Robles (native and assistant to Fr. Henley) and his wife, Mercy.
The story of our three-day journey begins with a visit to the Franciscan Monastery of Washington D.C. in the vicinity of Catholic University where the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception of Washington D.C. is located. Because Fr. Serra was of the Franciscan Order, the monastery was festive in appearance and in their welcoming. The monastery was beautifully decorated in the Papal colors and images of Pope Francis. The news media was also present to video and interview those present who witnessed Pope Francis touch down at Andrews Air Force Base via big screen monitors. There was great cheer and celebration when Shepard 1 touched down on our American soil!
The security wait at the Canonization Mass was close to four hours, however, the people we met in line made the wait enjoyable. Once in our seats with more than 25,000 others in the lawn area adjacent to the Basilica, we realized we were truly participating in a once in a lifetime event.
The Rite of Canonization at the beginning of Mass with Native Andy Galvan’s (Mission Delores San Francisco) presentation of the relics of Fr. Serra to Pope Francis and the people was solemn and holy. Participating in the celebration of Mass with Pope Francis, his Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Religious and dignitaries, together with laity is one of the highlights of my life.
After Mass we were invited back to the Franciscan Monastery for a reception. It was a beautiful setting in the courtyard of the monastery with the moon shining brightly, while the Franciscans and their guests spoke about their experiences from the day. It was here that I heard that Pope Francis had met with Native Americans from the nine missions Fr. Serra had started. I was able to meet some of them and listened to their stories about their meeting.
We were again invited to join the Franciscans the next morning at a special Mass at the Monastery celebrating the Canonization. Present was the Mayor from Serra’s home island of Majorca Spain together with other Spanish dignitaries. Also present were the Natives that met with Pope Francis and the Franciscans. After Mass we sat with Ed and Beth Glasco, Borona Band of Mission Indians, and they stated how Pope Francis had embraced them at their meeting and that they felt a great healing come upon them. I then told them that the embrace they received was not theirs alone but was for all peoples, I then stood and asked for an embrace from them from Pope Francis. I encouraged them to embrace others to start or assist them on their journey of healing.
So now I begin to also share that embrace of Pope Francis through Ed and Beth with those who seek the healing power of forgiveness and healing. And so the healing journey begins anew! God is always so good!