Wednesday, July 15, 2020

"Burn down the mission"

Three-fourths of this mission, which was founded in 1771 and had been refurbished for its re-opening this week, after considerable investment, burned in a fire at 4:20 AM on Saturday the 11th.

The roof is gone and the interior charred; however, much of the furnishings were not installed yet after the site was fixed up. "The cause is under investigation" goes the statement in the media. Yes, it has been hot, as usual; unsure if this is by an "act of God." (Many of my formative years were spent in the next parish over....)

A neighboring mission at San Fernando up the "chain of the 21" founded a day's journey apart in the late 1700s and early 1800s in California by Franciscan friars, has been targeted after protests by "Indigenous activists" who called it a "concentration camp." A statue of the newly canonized saint, as posted by me a few weeks ago, had been destroyed similarly, downtown in Los Angeles at the site of the city's founding in 1771. The statue of Fr Serra at San Gabriel Mission a few years ago was removed from the street side (which is named for Junipero Serra) to the garden after someone tried to decapitate it with an electric saw, and who poured red paint on it. Similar tactics as which felled Serra's this past June. Apparently the statue at the SG Mission now has been placed in safekeeping.

Thinking of St Kateri Tekakwitha whose feast day was yesterday, and all the "lily of the Mohawks" suffered, for her dogged decision to side with her convert mother's faith. About the hardship her nation all endured, as the thoughtful film based on Brian Moore's novel Black Robe dramatizes, hearing out all sides. When I visited the site of Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons mission in Midlake, Ontario, I noted how "evenhanded" (if unsurprisingly, still a change from how this material might have been framed in an American museum if in pre-"woke" times) the Canadian government's presentation was, as it showed wisely as a preview to us visiting the restored "mission" the complex predicament of three embattled factions there among the Wendat: those who'd accepted Christ, those who remained traditional believers, and those caught in the middle, as plagues came, in the wake of the French, and blame games proliferated.

A timely message. I only hope as a native myself of the region where Franciscans marched in the vanguard of the Spanish empire that sites and symbols of their presence will not be burned or erased in the name of "justice." (See a "progressive" piece in Religion Dispatches written just before destruction at S.G. Mission.) That parish had been preparing for a remodel to display Fr Serra's threatened statue in a context to address the curricular criticisms now standard in the coverage of the missionaries, which admittedly is not that I got in public school fourth-grade (that lesson we few "native Californians" fondly recall is making a model out of flour and water, sugarcubes and popsicle sticks, at least prior to today's kits, which take the fun out of choosing among 21 missions one's favorite inspiration. Not sure if this survives fiercely contested instruction nowadays, given controversies "racist colonialism" generates.)

I was surprised, and moved, by simple plots in dirt, almost popsicle-stick markers, where some Jesuits had been first buried. Contrasted with the Catholic Canadian Martyrs church-shrine down the road, the provincial museum had such unobtrusive signs of the resting places of the missionaries you might miss -- or step on-- them. Reflecting on my visit 12 summers ago, both tributes appear appropriate: the modest simplicity and multi-ethnic ethos of the "secular," and the shrine's legacy where Jesuits continue their apostolate, in the tradition of Ss. Jean de Brébeuf and his companions.

For all the contested attempts of Canada to do justice to First Nations communities and Catholic history, they educate visitors, one may argue or at least hear out, given our Church's complicity. Ontario conservative writer-artist (educated three years in a Catholic hostel for an Inuit boarding school where abuse occurred in the early 1960s) Michael D. O'Brien's novel A Cry of Stone on mid-20c artist Rose Wâbos tells this troubled tale, in his faithful, probing style.

P.S. The parish website: ""We are so grateful for the outpouring of support from our Mission family during this devastating time. We are renewed in our 'Mission' to rebuild our historic Church and will very soon celebrate its restoration. If you would like to make a contribution, please go to our DONATE NOW page and designate your donation to the 'Fire Restoration Fund' or the 'Old Mission and Gardens' tab."

P.P.S. Blog title from this Elton John 1970 song title.

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