In the middle of nineteenth centurythe seat of Congress of the United States of Americahe Capitol, had become too small, so it was expanded, doubling its capacity, leaving some areas unused which had to be reused. After several proposals and ideas, the deputy Justin S. Morrill He proposed that one of these areas host statues sent by each of the states in a concept he called: “National Shrine Hall“.

The idea was to have a room where each state in the country would bring two statues of important people from its history so that their legacy would be remembered at the Capitol and serve as a symbolic representation of that territory. The law created in 1864 It reads: “The President is authorized to invite each State to furnish and provide two statues of deceased persons who are citizens thereof, and illustrious by historical fame or distinguished civic or military service. » which each State considers worthy. of this national commemoration.

Currently, the collection of National Shrine Hall It is made up of 100 statues and among them is that of a Spaniard, made in bronze by the Italian. Ettore Cadorin and which was delivered to Capitol In 1931. The work, representing Californiasymbolizes this Spaniard’s dedication to the communities he served and his crucial contribution to the early development of California, establishing the mission system that was the seed of today’s state.

[Por qué en la cúpula del Capitolio hay una escena con el entierro de Hernando de Soto, el primer español que cruzó el Mississippi]

This missionary, who shares the honor, with Ronald Reagan, of representing California in the most important national shrine in all of the United States, is Miguel José Serra Ferrera legendary Franciscan who Pope Francis made a saint and which is considered by many in Spain to be a racist genocide.

A Majorcan missionary

Miguel was born on November 24, 1713 In Petra, Majorcafrom a poor marriage formed by Antonio Serra and Margarita Ferrer who, despite the limited resources at their disposal, enrolled their son in the school of the Franciscan convent of Saint Bernardine of Petra, from where he continued his studies at the convent of San Francisco in Palma de Mallorca.

At the age of 16, he became a brother and took the name “Juniper”in honor of one of the first companions of Saint Francis of Assisi. His interest in philosophy led him to devote himself to study and teaching in his convent and to the chair of theology at the Real y Pontifical Luliana and Literary University of Mallorcaan academic institution that was the predecessor of the University of the Balearic Islands.

But Majorca seemed too small to him, so he decided to travel to Latin America as a missionary with his friend the Father Francisco Palouwith whom he embarked, on April 13, 1749, in Palma de Mallorca on an English ship which took them to Malaga, from where they continued their journey to Cádiz, the start of their crossing of the Atlantic.

In August 1749, with Palou and sixteen other Franciscans from various regions of Spain, he left for the viceroyalty of New Spaincurrent Mexico. They stopped at Porto Rico and they landed in Veracruz on December 7, 1749, after a journey that they believed to be their last, since they were on the verge of shipwreck.

Fray Junípero Serra.

Fray Junípero Serra.

Wikimedia Commons

While his traveling companions took the horses offered to them to join Mexico, Fray Junípero decided to walk 500 kilometers which separated Veracruz from the capital of New Spain, to immerse himself in every square centimeter of these new lands and know the culture in which he was about to immerse himself, but the difficulties of this journey were so excruciating that during of his On his arrival, he had to spend several days prostrate because of a leg illness which would not leave him until his death.

I don’t give bread, I give yeast

After his recovery, he requested authorization to found a mission in Sierra Gorda, a mountainous territory known for its hostility towards the brothers and where some of their companions had already failed. Six months later, he received authorization to viceroy and he decided that, to overcome the doubts of the natives, he would not only promote Christianity, but also use the materials necessary for subsistence, such as livestock or agriculture, to gain their affection, respect and affection .

On arrival at Sierra Gorda He put his plan into practice by working closely with local residents to provide them with a more comfortable life by teaching them agricultural skills, mathematics, reading and writing. Junípero gave them weapons, not to fight, but to grow and become stronger. And it worked. For nine years, the missions he founded there experienced unusual prosperity, so much so that they are now listed as UNESCO world heritage sites.

Santiago de Jalpan, one of the Sierra Gorda missions.

Santiago de Jalpan, one of the Sierra Gorda missions.

Wikimedia Commons

His next destination would take him to Apache territory, as things stood. TexasHowever, the death of the viceroy prevented this project, so he had to wait several years before receiving his next occupation, which would take him to where he would become a myth and a legend: California.

There Upper California, currently territory of the United States, belonged to the Spanish crown, although since its discovery practically no exploration of this vast territory had been carried out until from 1767 the situation changed. That year, the king Charles III He decreed the expulsion of the Jesuits from all domains of the crown, suspecting that this order sought to interfere in the affairs of the state.

But without the Jesuits, this part of the empire would not be protected against the Russian and French colonizing advance, which is why the king sent 16 Franciscans there led by Brother Junípero, 56 years old, as well as a military expedition that would consolidate Spanish domination in the region. The procession has left Mexico on July 14, 176, arriving at Mission of Our Lady of Loreto, considered the mother of all Californian missions, from where they continued the exploration of Alta California to bring the Gospel to the indigenous population.

Founding California

While the English, French and Dutch exterminated the natives, burned their villages and gave them smallpox-infected blankets, the Majorcans raised nine missions waiting for local residents to approach them. There, they were taught the word of God, but also carpentry, blacksmithing or masonry, as evidenced by the ruins of a Catalan forge still preserved in the Mission of San Juan Capistrano.

Remains of the Catalan forge of the San Juan Capistrano mission.

Remains of the Catalan forge of the San Juan Capistrano mission.

Wikimedia Commons

Spanish Franciscans would eventually found 21 missions along the California coast, laying the foundation for Hispanic heritage throughout the region. The benefits of this heritage are still visible today in the major cities of this state, such as San Diego, San Francisco or Los Angeles, enclaves which retain the original name of the missions from which they were born. Even in some areas of California, some of the crops introduced by Brother Junípero are still planted.

The Spaniard even attracted the enmity of important figures in the viceroyalty, such as the governor of New California, an exploiter who mistreated the local population. When Brother Junipero learned of their abuses, he wrote a report to the viceroy of New Spain which is considered one of the first “Letters of Indian Rights”, placed on the same level as the writings of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas and that he himself took charge of the viceroy in Mexico and this led to the replacement of the denounced governor.

Despite what many claim, when he died on August 28, 1784, no one considered Fray Junípero Sierra a genocidaire, a racist or an exterminator. Worldwide, he was the founder of nine Franciscan missions that saved thousands from hunger, marginalization and California’s most ruthless settlers.

The birth of a saint

On September 14, 1987, the Pope Juan Pablo II had an encounter with Native Americans in Phoenix, Arizona, where he praised Junípero’s work in defending his ancestors. Three days later, he visited her grave at Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Monterrey, California. A year later, he beatified him.

In 2013, on the 300th anniversary of his birth, the kings of Spain (at the time princes of Asturias) visited the mission to place a wreath on his tomb and two years later, Pope Francis canonized him in the city of Washington, DC. the proven popular veneration which considers him as an extraordinary character who rivals George Washington or Thomas Jefferson in the importance of explaining the founding of the United States of America.

Tomb of Brother Junípero in San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.

Tomb of Brother Junípero in San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.

Wikimedia Commons

In the homily at the canonization Mass on September 23, 2015, Pope Francis emphasized that Brother Junípero “had a motto that inspired his steps and that he embodied in his life. He knew how to say, but above all he knew how to live by saying:always forward! »

By wbu4c

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