FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

9. Franciscan Saints and Mystics (5)

E) Franciscan Missionaries

9.24 St. Francis Solano (1549-1610)

Francis was born in 1549 in the town of Montilla, near Cordoba, in Spain. When he was 20 years old he joined the Franciscans at Granada, in one of the houses of recollection founded by the Minister General Francisco Quinones. Francis studied in the friary of Seville and was ordained a priest in 1576. His first pastoral experience was that of director of novices. He was then guardian in a friary on the Sierra Morena. During this time he took care of plague victims. Later on he became a preacher and dedicated his energies in favour of the sick and prisoners. Feeling the call to missionary evangelisation, Francis asked for permission to go to Africa, but he was sent to Latin America instead. On 28 February 1589 he left with other companions from Sanlucar di Barrameda. After crossing the Atlantic the friars arrived at Cartagena, Colombia. Francis continued on foot, crossing the Panama isthmus and continuing southwards to Peru. His voyage by sea was perilous. He was shipwrecked on a remote island in the Pacific during a violent storm. The whole group was then taken by a ship and arrived at Paita, in Peru. Francis continued his journey to Lima. His superiors sent him to the remote missions of Tucuman, in modern Paraguay and northern Argentina. Francis arrived in these regions in 1590. He was a staunch defender of the rights of the indios against the Spanish conquistadores, who often plundered and killed the indigenous populations. In 1592 Francis was nominated Custos of the Tucuman missions. He laboured in these missions until 1595, when he returned to Lima as guardian. He was always active in preaching, and was a courageous prophet against abuses. His health failed in 1608, and he was confined to an infirmary in Lima. Francis died in Lima on 14 July 1610. Clement X declared Francis Solano a Blessed in 1675 and Benedict XIII canonised him in 1726.

9.25 Blessed Junípero Serra (1713-1784)

On 17 September 1987, Pope John Paul II visited the Carmel Mission in California, during a pastoral visit to the United States. On that occasion he placed flowers upon the tomb of fray Junípero Serra. On 25 September 1988 the same Pop beatified this Franciscan evangeliser. Junípero Serra was born on the island of Majorca on 24 November 1713. His baptismal name was Miguel José Serra, and his family background was that of humble farmers. When Miguel was 15 years old he received the Franciscan habit in the friary of Nuestra Señora de los Angeles. In 1713 Miguel was professed as a Franciscan friar and took the name of Junípero. During the period 1731-1734 Junípero studied at the friary of San Francisco de Palma. After this date he was ordained priest. His first years of priesthood were spent teaching philosophy to the Franciscan students. In June 1742 fray Junípero became a doctor of theology at the University of Majorca. He also occupied the post of professor at this royal academic institution. In 1749, when he was 25 years old, Junípero felt the call to go to evangelise in the New World. On 13 April 1749, together with Francisco Palou, Junípero left Majorca bound for Mexico. On 18 October he arrived in San Juan on the island of Puerto Rico. From there he continued his journey to Mexico, during which the ship he was on was caught in a hurricane. Luckily for him Junípero landed at Vera Cruz and from there proceeded to Mexico City, where he arrived on 1 January 1750, in time to celebrate the eucharist in the sanctuary of the Virgin of Guadalupe. His first missionary experience was that of the Sierra Gorda with the Pame Indians (1750-1758). He was stationed in Jalpan. After this intense period of evangelisation, Junípero returned to the missionary college of Mexico City to prepare himself for a new missionary endeavour in San Saba de la Santa Cruz (today called Menard County, Texas). This expedition proved to be both difficult and dangerous. In the meantime Junípero had to remain in Mexico City as master of novices. In July 1767 Junípero was sent to Loreto, in Baja California. Spain's colonial interests in the Alta California prompted Junípero to journey northwards to San Diego, where he arrived in 1769. After great difficulties Junípero succeeded in founding the first mission in what is today the State of California. The missionary expeditions continued northwards towards Monterey. On 24 August 1771 Junípero founded a second mission, San Carlos Borromeo, or Mission Carmel. This mission was to be the headquarters for Junípero Serra's missionary endeavours in California. Other missions stations were later founded, San Antonio (1771), San Gabriel (1771) and San Luís Obispo (1772). In 1773 Junípero returned to Mexico, to ask for help to the new missions from the viceroy. On the way he was often sick. When he arrived in Mexico City Junípero presented the viceroy with a detailed report on the California missions and also drafted a "representación", which marks the first legislative document of the new region of California. Upon returning to Mission Carmel in 1774 Junípero continued working hard as a missionary and at building a prosperous community. New mission stations were founded: San Francisco (1776), San Juan Capistrano (17760, Santa Clara (1777), San Buenaventura (1782). Junípero's health failed him in 1784. During the summer he was suffering from tuberculosis and lung congestion. He died on 28 August 1784, when he was 70 years old, worn out by fatigue and walking thousands of kilometres. He had been a missionary for 35 years. He was buried in the church of Mission Carmel.

© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm



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