WASHINGTON, August 8, 2013 – Transcontinental pilgrimages are now in progress as the Spanish faithful of the idyllic Mediterranean island of Mallorca journey across the Atlantic and beyond to California’s Pacific coast in honor of the 300th anniversary of the birth of their native son Friar Junipero Serra, their “Apostle to California.”
Fra Serra, driven by his missionary zeal in the latter part of the 18th Century, eventually led to the founding of 21 missions strategically build along the shores of the Pacific to evangelize and better the lives of the then native Indian population.
Today many California faithful in turn are now journeying to Mallorca and to Junipero Serra’s birthplace itself situated in the quaint rural village of Petra in the island’s heartland to honor the renowned evangelist and state founder.
Petra’s current population of some 2,000 souls has remained virtually unchanged since their favorite son’s departure in 1749 to his mission field in the “New Spain” claimed by the then-powerful Spanish Crown in the North American continent.
In answer to the call of the Holy Spirit at the age of 36, the beloved Serra left the comfortable lifestyle he earned through great effort to become a priest and then theological professor at Mallorca’s leading university.
His calling was so profound that he would never again return to his island place of birth.
After a grueling trans Atlantic sailing voyage that lasted 99 days, he finally landed on the North American Continent at today’s Mexican Port of Vera Cruz. From there, he continued inland for more than 200 miles on foot.
After 20 years of mission planting in today’s Mexico, in 1759 at age 56, Serra crossed over northward into Alta California, which in 1850 became the 31st American State of California.
Until Serra’s death in 1784, the mission builder laid the foundations of Christianity in this unchartered land. His first baptism of an Indian infant followed in time to 1,041 baptisms in his San Carlos Borromeo Mission alone by the legendary evangelist’s passing.
Back in Serra’s native Petra, all roads seem to lead to the famed evangelist’s childhood home and its adjoining Fra. Junipero Serra Museum and Study Center down a narrow street named for the village’s renowned native son.
My own visit was enhanced as I was escorted through Serra’s hometown by the kindly Senor Bartolome Bestard Bone, President of the Association of the Friends of Father Junipero Serra.
A devoted Christian and Mallorca son, he earlier served as the island’s United States Consul for 45 years, though not an American citizen himself. He is also president of the Worldwide Association of the Friends of Father Junipero Serra that is orchestrating the Tri Centennial celebration of the New World evangelist’s birth this year.
I was also joined by Friar Juan Marti Gandia, in the traditional robes of a Franciscan father, as we inspected the humble adobe Serra family dwelling adjoining the museum.
The home consists of two bedrooms, the largest that served as the stable for the family burro! The kitchen was located out of doors under a tent-like covering. A family room served as a place for relaxing and dining. And candles were the simple abode’s only source of lighting.
Friar Juan graciously reenacted his candle worship ritual in his Franciscan robes in the dark abode of Serra’s family room that reverently transported me back to the 1700s’ life and time of his departed Franciscan brother.
Later down the cobblestone Calle del Padre Junipero Serra we entered the courtyard of the museum dedicated to Petra’s beloved native son that opened in 1959.
Focal point of the courtyard is a large Spanish tile mural of the famed evangelist baptizing an American Indian infant surrounded by his parents and brothers and sisters.
Indoors an astounding treasure trove of historical documents and memorabilia was contained. In an upstairs lecture room I was invited to its stage where a statuette of the famed evangelist and
Petra native son adorned a tabletop decorated with flowers.
Instinctively, as a Californian myself, I unashamedly reached out to embrace the sculpture of the icon of the legendary founding father my own home land.
My final Serra landmark in tiny Petra was nearby: the St. Bernadini Monastery Church, the final resting place of Serra’s parents beneath the main aisle of the sanctuary.
Now with my Petra pilgrimage complete and with a greater understanding, I appreciate even more than ever why the statue of Fra. Junipero Serra today stands in the United States Capitol in Washington, DC representing the State of California, the lone non-American citizen of the fifty statesmen so honored.
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