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Catholics hold pilgrimage to grave of Venerable Augustus Tolton, first African American priest

Denver Newsroom, Jul 12, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The fourth annual Quincy pilgrimage honoring Venerable Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest, took place Thursday with the intention of overcoming racism.

Fr. Daren Zehnle, the founder of the Quincy pilgrimage and pastor of St. Augustine parish in Ashland, Ill., said Tolton pastored beyond racial barriers.

“He saw the dignity of people made in the image and likeness of God. That was a turning point for what he did. That is one of our goals - to help people rediscover that basic approach to other people is to see in them Christ the Lord and to try to minister to Jesus in that other person as best as we can,” Zehnle told CNA.

July 9 marked the 123rd anniversary of Tolton’s death. The mile-long pilgrimage in Quincy, Ill., began outside of St. Peter Catholic school and ended with a series of prayers at Tolton’s grave at St. Peter Catholic Cemetery. The pilgrimage is meant to spread the knowledge of Venerable Tolton and to pray for the advancement of his cause for canonization.

Fr. Zehnle said the death of George Floyd had a profound impact on him. In response, he prayed at Tolton’s grave during the protests. He then decided for this year’s pilgrimage to place an emphasis on overcoming racism.

“I knew as soon as that happened that I need to go pray at Father Tolton’s grave… We need Father Tolton’s help with this one. [Then] maybe a week or so later, I wrote a prayer asking God to help us overcome racism through Father Tolton’s intercession,” he said.

Fr. Zehnle first began the pilgrimage four years ago after he returned from his studies in Rome and entered parish life in Quincy. His arrival coincided with the 130th anniversary of Tolton’s return from Rome to Quincy, and he decided to host a pilgrimage to celebrate the holy man’s life. As parishioners enjoyed the pilgrimage, Fr. Zehnle decided to continue the event on the anniversary of Tolton’s death.

“I think anyone who comes into contact with Tolton’s story, you don't have to read a lot about him before suddenly there's something about his life, but just sort of grabs you and brings you into it,” he said.

Around 30 people attended the event for the first two years, but in the third year, shortly after Tolton was declared Venerable, 150 people attended the event. This year, 145 people prayed at Tolton’s grave.

Fr. Zehnle said a majority of the pilgrimage attendees have a standing devotion to Tolton. He said the holy man had a profound impact on Quincy and is remembered as a person dedicated to human dignity. He said that when parishes were divided on ethnic lines, the priest welcomed all people to Mass regardless of their ethnicity.

“He never shied away from ministry to people, without any consideration for what this color of their skin was. He served people because he was Catholic because they came to him needing help and whatever form that was. It's an honest approach to life,” he said.

Fr. Tolton was born a slave in Missouri April 1, 1854 to Catholic parents, Peter Paul and Martha Jane.

Peter Paul escaped shortly after the beginning of the Civil War and joined the Union army, dying shortly thereafter. Martha Jane then escaped to Illinois in 1862 with Augustus and his siblings, Charley and Anne.

Augustus went to Rome in 1880 to attend a seminary of the Congregation for Propagation of the Faith. He was ordained a priest in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran on Holy Saturday 1886, and was sent back to serve in Illinois in the Diocese of Alton. He worked at a parish in Quincy, but met with opposition from a white priest, and in 1889 secured permission to transfer to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In Chicago he founded a black parish, Saint Monica's. He died July 9, 1897 from heat stroke and heart failure, at the age of 43.

The Chicago archdiocese opened Fr. Tolton’s cause for canonization in 2010. In June 2019 he was declared Venerable, an acknowledgement that he lived a life of heroic virtue.

‘Always forward!’: San Gabriel fire is a call to mission of hope, says Archbishop Gomez

CNA Staff, Jul 12, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).-  

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez has called for Catholics to find hope and a renewed sense of mission amid a “season of sickness and death.” Gomez preached a Sunday morning homily at the Chapel of the Annunciation, on the grounds of the historic San Gabriel Mission Church which was severely damaged by a fire early Saturday morning.

“Yesterday’s fire was heartbreaking. Let’s thank God that nobody got hurt. I thank God this morning, too, for this opportunity to pray with you and to mourn with you,” Gomez said in his July 12 homily.

“In this long season of sickness and death since the coming of the coronavirus, this is one more trial, one more test. We ask the Lord to grant us comfort and consolation. We ask him to strengthen and increase our faith.”

The fire at St. Gabriel is being investigated by local and federal authorities, who have yet to determine the cause of a July 11 fire that destroyed the 249-year-old church’s roof and much of the historic church building. Because the mission church was under renovation, many of its historic and devotional objects had been removed, and were not inside when the building burned.

“The Lord is all mercy and love and tenderness toward us, and we know that he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, that he will turn our mourning into joy. We know this. We believe in his promises,” Gomez said.

“But right now, in this moment, we are sad for what we have lost.”

The San Gabriel fire is one of several fires and acts of vandalism at churches across the country this weekend. On Friday, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was vandalized in Queens, New York. Another statue of Mary was set on fire early Sunday morning outside a Boston parish. Police are investigating both incidents.

On Saturday, in Florida, a man drove a minivan into the front of Queen of Peace Catholic church in Ocala, poured gasoline in the foyer and set fire to the building while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass. Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest. According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. 

The fire also comes after numerous statues of St. Junipero Serra have been torn down in California: at the state capitol in Sacramento, in Los Angeles, and in San Francisco, while protestors have called for similar statues to be moved or torn down in other cities. While Serra, a Franciscan missionary priest, is regarded as a founder of California and an evangelist to indigenous people, some critics say he was complicit in human rights abuses in the eighteenth century. His supporters say Serra defended the rights and dignity of native people.

Gomez said that the fire at San Gabriel was especially painful as “this destruction comes as we are getting ready to celebrate the 250th anniversary of this great mission.”

“But this fire changes nothing,” said the archbishop. “Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles, the place from which the Gospel still goes forth.”

“You trace your roots all the way back to the beginnings of the Christian faith in California, before the founding of the United States. In fact, you are one of the few Catholic communities in this continent that can claim to be founded by a saint.”

As he prayed to St. Serra Saturday night, Gomez said, he recalled that the saint also “knew sufferings every day in his service to the Gospel.”

“I thought, 'what would St. Junípero tell us this morning?' And I remembered his beautiful little prayer: ‘Let us bear every hardship for the love of You and the salvation of souls. In our trials, may we know that we are loved as Your own children.’ Let’s make that our prayer this morning, my brothers and sisters.”

Noting the words of St. Paul in the readings of Mass, in which the apostle says “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us,” Gomez said the readings of the day were a call to faith, hope, and action.

“He made us for glory — not for pain, not for sorrow!” Gomez said.

“We can’t give in to this sadness. We need to make this a moment for purification and renewal of our mission — renewal of the Mission of San Gabriel and renewal of the mission that is each one of our lives.”

“St. Junípero and the first Franciscan missionaries answered the Lord’s call and sacrificed everything to bring his Word to this land,” said Gomez. “Now it is our turn to make sure his Word is proclaimed to the next generation. We can’t harden our hearts or become distracted by the anxieties and temptations of the world.”

“St. Junípero would tell us today: “Siempre Adelante!” Always Forward, and don’t look back.”

Statues of Mary vandalized in weekend of Catholic church attacks

CNA Staff, Jul 12, 2020 / 10:50 am (CNA).- Boston police are investigating an arson attack on a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary Saturday night, the second attack in the U.S. on a statue of the Virgin Mary in two days, and during the same weekend in which two Catholic church fires are being investigated for arson.

Police were called to reports of a fire on Bowdin Street in the Dorchester neighborhood Boston at around 10 p.m. on July 11.

Local police confirmed that a statue of the Blessed Virgin, located outside the church of St. Peter’s Parish, had been set on fire and suffered damage. Local police and firefighters responded to reports that an unknown individual had set fire to plastic flowers in the hands of the statue, causing smoke and flame damage to the face, head, and upper body of the statue.

The fire at St. Peter’s is the latest in a series of fires and acts of vandalism which have struck Catholic churches in the last two days.

On July 10, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that New York City police were investigating the vandalization of a statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens.

Security footage shows an individual approaching the 100-year-old statue shortly after 3 a.m. Friday morning and daubing the word “IDOL” down its length.

Fr. James Kuroly, rector and president of Cathedral Prep, called the incident “an act of hatred.”

“Obviously, this tragedy saddens us deeply but it also renews our hope and faith in the Lord as he has shown his goodness in the many people who have already reached out to us,” said Fr. Kuroly. “We are sincerely grateful for the help we have received as well as the prayers. Please continue praying for those who committed this act of vandalism and hatred toward Our Lady and the Church.”

In addition to the attacks on the two statues of Mary, on Saturday morning sheriffs in Marion County, Florida, reported that deputies were called to Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, which was set aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.

Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest, after reportedly admitting to crashing a minivan into the church and then setting it on fire.

According to a Saturday evening statement from the sheriff's office, Shields poured gasoline in the church’s foyer and ignited it, after crashing his minivan through the parish's front door. Shields then drove away in the minivan, leading officers on a short chase before he was stopped. According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. 

Also on Saturday, a fire ravaged the San Gabriel mission in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a 249-year-old mission founded by St. Junípero Serra.

Gomez called the mission the “historic cornerstone and the spiritual heart of Los Angeles and the Catholic community here.”

Federal and local officials are still investigating the cause of the fire at the San Gabriel mission, with no determination yet made. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were investigating the possibility that the fire was an arson attack.

Also this weekend, San Diego police officials said that a fire at Calvary Baptist church at 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning was “suspicious” and was being investigated by the department’s Metro Arson Strike Team.

Calvary is an historically African American church, though its website says it has become a “multi-cultural faith community” in recent years.

Culture is about ‘creating, not destroying’ says sculptor

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 12, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Tired and heartbroken at seeing statues get pulled down and vandalized, Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz wracked his brain to come up with a compromise that would both preserve the artwork, and acknowledge the flawed nature of many historical figures. 

Schmalz has been a sculptor for 30 years and is perhaps best known for his “Homeless Jesus” sculpture and the "Angels Unaware" statue dedicated to migrants in St. Peter’s square. He told CNA that he believes sculpture is a unique and powerful method of preaching. 

He said it made him upset “beyond belief” watching the news and seeing statues of figures such as Christopher Columbus and St. Junipero Serra be torn down. 

“I know the amount of time that is spent working on each sculpture and a lot of these sculptures were done a century ago and the skill level, the time that it's been put into that--just on a simple work ethic and good craftsmanship and time and love that is put into it,” he said. 

“To see that being pulled down and destroyed just really breaks my heart,” Schmalz added. 

Sculpture, he said, is different from other art forms, as unlike a play or a piece of music, it is intended to be permanent.

“Its basic presence is that of time enduring,” he said. He told CNA that seeing what he called “a random mob” destroy statue after statue felt like watching “wanton violence against our culture.” 

The statues, Schmalz said, are  works of art being used as scapegoats for the country’s perceived historical sins.

“They’re visual ambassadors of that history, and to destroy it--[its] absolute arrogance.” 

Instead of destruction, Schmalz is advocating for more creation.

“I'm a sculptor, I'm a creative, I create, I do not destroy, and I wish more people would follow the role model of creating rather than destroying,” he said. 

Creation, Schmalz explained, is far more difficult than destruction. Some of the statues that were destroyed took years to make, “and they’re toppled in 15 minutes.” 

“I want to be in a culture that is one of creating, not one of destroying. And, and what I say is that if you have a problem with that sculpture, let's create more sculptures, let's create more stuff.”

And creating “more stuff” is just what Schmalz is doing. 

He sculpted what he has dubbed the “Monument of Oppression”--a sculpture of two arms extending outward behind a barred window--which he says he hopes could be installed as a “supplementary sculpture” beside controversial works of art, offering it as a compromise that could save more works of art from destruction. 

The Monument of Oppression would be “a layer of art on top of a layer of art,” and would serve as a reminder that there is a complicated history behind many notable persons which should be marked. 

As a sculptor, and as one who concentrates on religious-inspired art, Schmalz rejected the idea that statues of a European-styled Jesus should be taken down, but did say that there should be a wider embrace of images of Christ as various ethnicities, saying he has himself made many African-styled images of Christ and the Holy Family, including an African-American crucifix for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. 

“Jesus does not have a color. Jesus doesn't necessarily care,” he said. “Artwork is a bridge for people. And so if I have the opportunity to make a Jesus for a European place, fine. And an African-American Corpus should be in Atlanta, Georgia, because there's so many people of African descent there.” 

The depiction of Jesus as various ethnicities “has nothing to do with anything, but making artwork that fits the audience and you have the painters doing the same,” he said, noting that Jesus was often depicted in the clothing of the Middle Ages or Renaissance, and that the actual Last Supper “probably wouldn’t have had a European table and chairs.” 

“It doesn't matter,” he said. 

“Artwork is a communication, and that has to be spoken in a language that people could understand.” 

News anchor-turned-Catholic vocations director embarks on 'Tour de Priest'

Jackson, Miss., Jul 12, 2020 / 03:53 am (CNA).- This Sunday, a Catholic priest will embark on a 320-mile, 5-day bike ride to recruit young men and women for the Church.

Father Nick Adam had to be creative when he was assigned to be the director of vocations for the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, in the midst of a global pandemic.

“How do I reach people? How do I reach people?” Fr. Adam recalled repeatedly asking himself while the shelter-in-place order was in effect.

Since he had evenings free, he began riding his bike on the Natchez Trace Parkway. He soon realized that the parkway, which connects the entirety of his diocese, could be the perfect solution.

“It checks a lot of boxes. It allows me to connect with a wide variety of people (and) allows me to have a presence on Facebook and Instagram,” Adam told CNA. He is planning to document his trip on social media, allowing anyone to follow along with his journey.

As a former sports and news anchor, Adam has a gift for communication.

“Media and connecting with people in creative ways has always been part of my call,” he said. “I need to embrace those gifts for communication that [God] gave me.”

The priest admitted that bike riding does not come as naturally to him.

“People have looked at me like I’m crazy sometimes, especially because I’m not in the best shape of my life, but I have been training,” he said.

Still, Adam says that the fact that the ride will be a challenge is integral to his mission.

“Just completing something like this shows people that they can strive for something great,” he said. “That’s the Catholic idea, that’s the Catholic project, to bring about the kingdom of God. And it’s going to be hard and it's going to be challenging, and you’re going to want to quit, but with the Lord’s help, you are not going to quit.”

Adam said the trip is also an important remedy for misconceptions that many young people have about the priesthood.

“It shows people that priests are normal people that do normal things and that are capable of physical exertion,” he said.

Along his route, Adam will stop in parishes, meet with seminarians, and celebrate Mass, which will be live-streamed on his social media platforms. He wants to connect with young people, whether that be in-person or over his virtual interface.

Although Adam will stay in rectories of parishes overnight, between Jackson and Natchez there is “no ecclessial place to stay,” and he will instead spend the night at a campground. Young college students and others discerning a call to the priesthood and religious life will camp out with him.

Adam hopes that he can lay the groundwork for “a culture of vocations” in the diocese of Jackson among these young people.

Although it is the largest diocese East of the Mississippi, the Jackson diocese has always been served by mission priests. There were so many Irish priests in the diocese that when he was little, Adam thought being Irish was a requirement for the priesthood. Now most of the missionary priests come from Mexico, Latin America, and India.

“We have very few native Mississippians who are priests for our diocese,” he said. “My dream, and I think our call, is to create a presbyterate that again honors those who have evangelized our communities, but do that by filling our parishes with men who grew up in the state.”

He hopes that this trip, which he calls his “tour de priest,” will encourage young people to enter seminaries and convents in order to discern their calling.

The bike that will take him across the diocese is itself an artifact of several vocations.

“It’s been passed down, I think, from a baptist minister, to a Catholic monsignor, to a Catholic priest, finally to me as a seminarian. I mean, it’s got to be like 20 years old,” he said. “But it’s still rolling.”

 

Gomez asks for prayers after fire at 'spiritual heart of Los Angeles'

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 08:15 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has expressed his “terrible sadness” after a fire at a 249-year-old mission church founded by St. Junípero Serra, and asked for prayers for the local Catholic community.

Gomez said that the fire at “our beloved Mission San Gabriel Arcángel” early Saturday morning had caused severe damage to the California Historic Landmark.

“The damage is extensive — the roof is destroyed and much of the old church is ruined,” the archbishop reported in a letter released the evening of July 11. “It is terribly sad. Thanks be to God, nobody was hurt.”

The church had been scheduled to reopen on July 18, having been closed for some weeks following the coronavirus pandemic. Gomez called the mission, founded by St. Serra in 1771, the “historic cornerstone and the spiritual heart of Los Angeles and the Catholic community here.”

“The family of God was born in this region when St. Junípero Serra and his brother Franciscans established the mission on September 8, 1771,” Gomez said.

“It was families from this mission, who in turn founded Los Angeles ten years later, on September 4, 1781, walking nine miles west from the mission, crossing the Los Angeles River, and establishing El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula, named for the little chapel where St. Francis of Assisi first heard the call of Jesus Christ.”

The archbishop said that “to this day,” the parish at the mission “continues to be a shining expression of the beautiful diversity that God intends for his human family.” A special appeal fund has been established by the archdiocese.

“So, join me please in praying in this sad moment for our brothers and sisters at Mission San Gabriel. May they know the comfort and consolation of our loving Father and the solidarity and care of the entire family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

Local firefighters said they responded to an initial alarm at 4:24 a.m. By the time they arrived, smoke and flames were visible from outside the church and more than 50 firefighters were needed to bring the flames under control.

Adrian Marquez Alarcon, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said that because of renovations underway at the church ahead of its 250th anniversary, historic paintings and artifacts had been removed and were not in the building at the time of the fire.

No cause has yet been determined for the four-alarm fire, and local firefighters have said that the structure of the mission will have to be secured before a forensic investigation can begin.

The San Gabriel mission was the fourth mission founded by St. Junípero Serra, a Franciscan priest who founded a trail of missions across California, helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity, and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Many of Serra’s missions form the cores of what are today the state’s biggest cities— such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

An advocate for native people and a champion of human rights, Serra was often at odds with Spanish authorities over the treatment of native people, from whom there was an outpouring of grief at his death in 1784.

Serra was canonized by Pope Francis during a visit to the United States in 2015.

Despite Serra’s record defending indigenous peoples, images of the saint have become focal points for protests and demonstrations across California in recent weeks, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized in protest of California’s colonial past.

Arrest made in Florida Catholic church burning

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 07:14 pm (CNA).-  

A Florida man has been arrested after he reportedly admitted to crashing a minivan into a Catholic Church and then setting it on fire.

Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, of Dunnellon, Florida has been charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest, after he was apprehended by police July 11.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office reported Saturday morning that deputies were called at about 7:30 am to Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, which was set aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.

According to a Saturday evening statement from the sheriff's office, Shields poured gasoline in the church’s foyer and ignited it, after crashing his minivan through the parish's front door. Shields then drove away in the minivan, leading officers on a short chase before he was stopped.

According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. He said that he awoke on Saturday morning with a “mission,” and that he purchased the gas at a nearby gas station, according to Ocala-News.

Shields also quoted scripture, especially the Book of Revelation, to officers, and telling them his objections to the Catholic Church, Ocala-News reported. He reportedly told officers that he understood the consequences of his action, nevertheless saying the arson was “awesome” and referring to himself as “king.”

In 2019, Shields was arrested after swinging a crowbar at a woman and saying he wanted to kill her. Shields said he wanted to kill the woman with his crowbar so he wouldn’t “dirty his blades,” according to Ocala-News.

In a July 11 statement, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said: “Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear. My deputies and I are sworn to protect that right and will always ensure our citizens can worship in peace. I’m proud of my deputies for capturing this man so quickly and we appreciate the assistance from all of the state and federal agencies that worked alongside of us during this investigation.”

Earlier today, the Diocese of Orlando told CNA that Masses would resume in a nearby parish hall as ordinarily scheduled.

“We praise God that no one was injured. We join in prayer for Father O’Doherty, the parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church, our first responders and the gentleman who caused this damage. May we come to know the Peace of the Lord,” the Orlando diocese told CNA Saturday afternoon.

In addition to its other liturgies, the parish is one of few in central Florida to offer the extraordinary form of the Mass, otherwise known as the Traditional Latin Mass, which is celebrated weekly by a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter who drives to Ocala from a church in Sarasota.

The fire came at almost the same time that outside of Los Angeles, a mission church founded by St. Junipero Serra caught fire and was structurally destroyed.
 

Florida man lights Catholic Church on fire with parishioners inside

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 02:25 pm (CNA).-  

 

Update: An arrest was made Saturday afternoon in this case. Read the story here.

A Florida man lit a Catholic Church aflame on Saturday, while people inside prepared for morning Mass.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office reported July 11 that deputies were called at about 7:30 am to Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.



A man crashed a minivan through the front door of the church, and then lit a fire with people inside, the sheriff’s department said. One local media outlet, Orlando News 6, reported that man set the building ablaze by throwing an incendiary device.

The sheriff’s office said the man led officers on a vehicle chase and was eventually apprehended. The arsonist’s name has not been released, and charges have not yet been filed, but local media report that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is assisting in the investigation.

“We praise God that no one was injured. We join in prayer for Father O’Doherty, the parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church, our first responders and the gentleman who caused this damage. May we come to know the Peace of the Lord,” the Orlando diocese told CNA Saturday afternoon.

“Masses will resume as normal in the parish hall beginning this evening,” the diocese added.

The church is one of few in central Florida to offer the extraordinary form of the Mass, otherwise known as the Traditional Latin Mass, which is celebrated weekly by a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter who drives to Ocala from a church in Sarasota.

The fire came at almost the same time that outside of Los Angeles, a mission church founded by St. Junipero Serra caught fire and was structurally destroyed.

Mission founded by St. Junípero Serra burns in overnight fire

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 12:40 pm (CNA).-  

A massive fire devastated an eighteenth century mission church in San Gabriel, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, July 11. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called the fire at San Gabriel Mission church, founded by St. Junipero Serra, “devastating.”

The fire began early Saturday morning around 4 a.m. and destroyed the roof and interior of the 249-year-old structure. Local firefighters said they responded to an initial alarm at 4:24. By the time they arrived, smoke and flames were visible from outside the church – which is a California Historical Landmark.

 

Our beloved #SanGabrielMission, founded in 1771, devastated by fire before dawn. St. Junípero Serra, pray for this land that you helped to found. pic.twitter.com/aX0X4qCvJ7

— Abp. José H. Gomez (@ArchbishopGomez) July 11, 2020  

Battling the four-alarm fire eventually involved 50 firefighters, according to the Los Angeles Times. Local fire department spokesman Captain Antonio Negrete called the damage “heartbreaking.”

“The roof of the mission is completely gone and the interior up to the altar is completely destroyed,” Negrete said, noting that it was not yet possible to establish the cause of the fire because of concerns over the building’s structural integrity.

“We’re going to have building engineers come in and see if we can shore up some walls to make it as safe as possible for the investigators to go in and start investigating this fire,” he said, according to the Times.

Adrian Marquez Alarcon, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said that because of renovations underway at the church ahead of its 250th anniversary, historic paintings and artifacts had been removed and were not in the building at the time of the fire.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez visited the church Saturday morning, saying on Facebook that “[he] woke up before dawn this morning to news that our beloved San Gabriel Mission, founded by St. Junípero Serra in 1771, was burning.”

“Thank God no one is hurt,” Gomez said. “I’m here to pray with the people. The roof is destroyed and there is much damage in the old church. St. Junípero, pray for this city, this state, and this country that you helped to found.”

The San Gabriel mission was the fourth mission founded by St. Junípero Serra, a Franciscan priest who founded a trail of missions across California. Serra helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity, and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Many of Serra’s missions form the cores of what are today the state’s biggest cities— such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

An advocate for native people and a champion of human rights, Serra was often at odds with Spanish authorities over the treatment of native people, from whom there was an outpouring of grief at his death in 1784.

Serra was canonized by Pope Francis during a visit to the United States in 2015.

“Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,” the pope said in his homily at the Mass of canonization. 

Despite Serra’s record defending indigenous peoples, statues of the saint have become focal points for protests and demonstrations across California in recent weeks, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized in protest of California’s colonial past.

Rioters pulled down a statue of St. Serra in the state capital of Sacramento on July 4, during which one man burned the face of the statue with an ignited spray can, before a crowd pulled the statue from its base and struck it with a sledgehammer and other objects, dancing and jumping upon it.

Another statue of the saint was torn down in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, on June 19 by a crowd of about 100 people, and on the same day a statue of the saint was torn down in Los Angeles. The following week the San Juan Capistrano Mission and its neighboring church removed statues of Serra from their outside displays to preserve them from being targeted.

The July 11 fire came at nearly the same time a Florida man set fire to a Catholic parish as parishioners prepared for morning Mass.

Pope Francis recognizes 'Padre Kino,' Arizona's missionary priest

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis on Saturday recognized the heroic virtue of the life of a 17th century Italian Jesuit missionary who evangelized – and mapped – much of what is now northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.

On July 11, the pope formally recognized the life of Servant of God Eusebio Kino, S.J., as one of heroic virtue. Kino, an explorer and missionary, took part in numerous expeditions through the American Southwest and is widely considered an apostle to the native population of Arizona, and defender of their rights.

Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, welcomed the announcement on Saturday.

“Growing up in Arizona, I first learned of Padre Kino in elementary school,” Wall told CNA.

“The example of the life of the ‘Padre on Horseback’ has played a large part in strengthening my own Catholic faith – especially the love, care, and sensitivity he showed to the indigenous people of Arizona.”

Born in 1645 in the Tyrol region of northern Italy and ordained in 1677, Kino was sent to Mexico, arriving in 1681. While there, Kino made numerous journeys through what is now the Sonora region of Mexico, and the states of Arizona and California.

Participating in more than 50 expeditions through northern Mexico to the southwestern United States, he is credited with baptizing more than 4,000 people, and covering more than 50,000 square miles by horse while announcing the Gospel and mapping the Pimería Alta territory of modern Arizona.

A capable cartographer, Kino personally mapped an area 200 miles long by 250 miles wide, and paving the way for a network of missions and roads connecting previously inaccessible parts of the region.

One of the main thoroughfares in Tuscon is named the Kino Parkway in his honor and a statue of him overlooks the road.

A statue of Kino was placed in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., by Arizona in 1965.

Kino is also credited with teaching advanced agricultural and ranching techniques to the local people, delivering new crops and improving the quality of life. Kino founded 19 ranching villages to supply food for the region, and schools for the education of the local children.

The Jesuit was also a noted defender of the rights and dignity of the indigenous people, strongly opposing the Spanish conscription of the local Sonoran Indians to work in silver mines. He died in 1711, aged 65, having fallen ill during a Mass to dedicate the church of St. Francis Xavier in present day Magdalena de Kino, in Sonora, Mexico, where his shrine is a national monument.

“Kino was a true son of the Church, and model of the New Evangelization for our modern day,” Bishop Wall said. “I am grateful to the Holy Father for recognizing the heroic virtue of this great man.”

The Vatican’s recognition of Kino’s life as one of heroic virtue follows the recent vandalism and destruction of several statues of another missionary central to the history of the region. In recent weeks, demonstrators have attacked statues of St. Junipero Serra, who founded a string of missions across California and was known as a vigorous defender of rights of indigenous peoples.

The recognition of Kino’s heroic virtue was made Saturday morning in Rome, when Pope Francis advanced the causes of five possible candidates for sainthood.