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Unsettling Missions

I forget how our grade school poem went, but each stanza ended with El Cain mo Real. The page showed the picture of a mission bell by the roadside. I really had no idea what El Camino Real meant, and it wasn't until I visited Mission Santa Barbara that I had an inkling of what this famous route was all about.

The paintings on the church ceilings and walls had an endearing ethnic flavor. The garden and the cemetery beside the church with the enormous Australian Bay tree were charming. I read the names and dates on the fading tombstones. I believe Old Gabriel, a Native American who lived to be over a hundred years old, is buried there.

When my husband and I lived in San Francisco, I used to hear Mass at Mission Dolores, which is also very charming. Its crammed cemetery with the mixture of Spanish, Irish, and other names on the markers fascinated me. I often wondered about the numerous infants buried there. There were members of families who died in the same year and I imagined that they perished from the plague or some other communicable disease-typhoid, spinal meningitis-because medical knowledge was limited then.

I also visited the Cannel Mission which is easy to like with its lush gardens-I had never seen the kanding-kanding and bougainvillea look more elegant. Father Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who began the missions, is buried here.

A native of Mallorca, Spain, Father Serra arrived in San Diego on July 1, 1769. The Jesuits had just been removed from the missions in Mexico and the Franciscans took over. Don Gaspar de Portola and 217 men, including the famous friar, had left La Paz and traveled for two months before arriving in Baja California. About 100 weary and sickly men survived. Father Serra remained to found San Diego de Alcala Mission, while Portola headed a land expedition to find Monterey.

Monterey had been spotted in 1602 by Vizcaino who reported it had the best port that could be desired, for besides being sheltered from the winds, there is much wood and water, suitable for the masts and yards... this port is surrounded by the settlement of friendly Indians willing to give what they have, and would be pleased to see us settle in this country. . . There are springs of good water; beautiful lakes covered with ducks and many other birds; most fertile pastures; good meadows for cattle and fertile fields for growing crops...

Portola had difficulty locating Monterey. He reached the area, but not recognizing it, turned back to San Diego. But by June 1770, the San Antonio with Father Serra on board, sailed into the pine-bordered harbor of Monterey. Father Serra built a church near the presidio; but because of administrative problems with the military, he built the mission away from the presidio. He chose a pasture near the Cannel River. Father Serra had a special attachment to the Cannel Mission where he died on August 28, 1784.Father Serra, beatified recently, was the moving force behind the missions. Although there is no question about his good motives in establishing the missions, there is criticism because he was indirectly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Native Americans. American Indians died from European diseases such as measles; they were held in the missions, separated according to sex, and forced to lead lives alien to their ways.

It is interesting to note, since it no doubt affected Filipinos at that time, that Charles V, during the 16th century, had issued New Laws:

1. The Indians should be permitted to dwell in communities of their own;

2. They should be permitted to choose their own leaders and councilors;

3. No Indian might be held as a slave;

4. No Indian might live outside his own village nor might any lay Spaniard dwell within an Indian village for longer than 3 days, and then only if he were a merchant or ill;

5. The Indians were to be instructed in the Catholic faith.

But the Spaniards were still the colonizers. Even with good intentions, the missionaries ended up as tools of the Spanish conquistadores.

Mission Santa Barbara has a wooden crucifix that came from the Philippines, and Mission Dolores has an elaborate carved sanctuary also from the Islands. During the mission days in California, in the late 18th century, California was frontier land. Spanish soldiers and friars took weeks traveling on land or water to reach a place that can now be reached in less than a day. Indians were not always friendly and food supplies sometimes ran low. The missions were built one traveling day apart to serve as inns for the traveling padres and soldiers. Twenty-one California missions now remain as testaments of the work of Junipero Serra, Francisco Palou, Juan Crespi, Fermin Lausen, and other missionaries.

The Philippine situation during the 18th century had similarities with what was happening in California. Although the Philippines was more developed-Manila was a bustling city and an important stop in the galleon trade-the five missionary orders divided the country into their territories. The religious made every effort to place Catholic converts within the hearing and call of the church bells, bajo las campanas.Philippine towns developed with the enormous baroque church, the municipio, the plaza with its grandstand, and inhabitants surrounding these.

The Spanish friars became quite wealthy and would later earn the ire of many Indio's, including the Filipino hero, Jose Rizal. There were, however, many missionaries who sacrificed comfort, even their lives, in Christianizing Filipinos. Fathers Jeronimo Martinez, Diego Carlos, Juan de Pareja, and Pedro Jimenez worked in the Mountain Province.

But just as the California missionaries were partly responsible for suppressing the Native Americans, the Philippine missionaries can also be blamed for the oppression of los Indios Filipinos.


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