UNIT SEVEN: FRANCISCAN MISSION
This unit looks, firstly, at the history of Francis and the Early Franciscan Mission to Mongolia, and some of the early missionaries who were concerned in that mission, as well as a glimpse at the California Mission in the 18th century. Following that, we examine briefly the spirituality of mission.
PART I: FRANCISCAN EVANGELIZATION
Chapter 1: Francis’ Missionary Spirit
Introduction: Francis’ call to mission
Mission in the Early Rule of Francis
Francis’ Missionary Journeys
Francis & Evangelization
Questions for discussion
Chapter 2: The First Missionary Expansion of the Order
- A Brief historical overview
1. Franciscan Mission in the time of Francis
2. After Francis: The Order re-thinking its missionary work
3. Franciscan Mission in the East
4. Distribution of Mission areas
Activity & Discussion
Chapter 3: The Mongol Mission
Some of the Early Missionaries: a) John of Pian del Carpine (1182-1252) b) William of Rubruck (died c. 1270) c) John of Montecorvino (1247-1328) d) Odoric of Pordenone (died c. 1331) Conclusion
Chapter 4: The Californian Mission
Some of the Early Missionaries:
Fray Junipero Serra
PART II: THE THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY OF MISSION Chapter 1: Theologies of Mission
What is the Church’s Mission?
Mission to Whom?
What is the Mission of the Church?
Theological Approaches to Mission Six ‘constants’ - Chart: Three Approaches to Mission
- Clarification of the chart
Chapter 2: The Spirituality of Mission
Franciscan Proclamation of the Gospel
Some characteristics of Mission Spirituality
Review of Unit Seven
PART I: FRANCISCAN EVANGELIZATION
FRANCIS’ MISSIONARY SPIRIT
Introduction: Francis’ Call to Mission
Most experts would agree that Francis of Assisi received his missionary vocation from Christ when he was in the little ruined church of San Damiano: “Francis, don’t you see that my house is being destroyed? Go, then, and rebuild it for me.” At first, Francis did not understand the significance of that command, but later it became clearer when he heard the Gospel of Matthew proclaimed at Mass: “Go and preach, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is near!...You have received without paying, so give without being paid. Do not carry any gold, silver, or copper money in your pockets; do not carry a beggar’s bag for the journey or a spare shirt or shoes or a walking-stick. A worker should be given what he needs….”1 It was after hearing these words that Francis exclaimed, “This is what I want to do with all my strength!” This was the basic text that he later referred to in his Rules.
1. Mission in the Early Rule of St Francis
Francis included in his Early Rule and his writings his insights and Gospel experience of Mission. He speaks about the behaviour of the Brothers when they go on missions and to live according to the example of his life – one of complete submission to the Spirit and “his holy operation.” Francis’ insights gave a new impulse to the Order and the entire Franciscan Family from the very beginning of its missionary activity.
The Early Rule of 1221 particularly devotes some chapters to the missionary activity of the friars (Cf. Rnb XIV, XVI and XVII). In fact, Francis was the first founder of an Order to devote a chapter of his Rule to Missions. This innovation was confirmed and used by the Church. It was not long before his example was copied by others.2 Note, however, that Francis did not use the term “mission”. Actually, it was not until the mid-16th century when it was used in the sense of being sent to a definite place to exercise one’s ministry – whether it was to pagans or those baptized already. Before that “mission” always referred exclusively to the “sending” of the Trinity: the “sending” of the Son by the Father and the “sending” of the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son. Later, the term “mission” was also used to refer to the place where one was sent. In the 17th century, it took on the technical meaning – used first by the Jesuits - of “being sent” or the decision to send to a pagan country to preach the Gospel. Consequently the one being sent began to be called a “missionary.” And the place he was sent to the “mission land,” or simply “mission”.3
2. Francis’ Missionary Journeys
Francis seemed to be always conscious of “mission.” He himself made a number of missionary journeys: He set out Syria in 1212 but was shipwrecked, and had to return to Italy; again in 1214, when he reached Spain, illness forced him to return home. In 1217, the first General Chapter of the Order set up Provinces as missionary territories: Tuscany, Lombardy, Provence, Spain and Germany were given to friars to evangelize. Francis reserved France for himself, but was persuaded by Cardinal Hugolino to remain in Italy to care for the Order. In 1218, Francis also made a number of missionary tours around central Italy. In 1219, the second General Chapter took place. Francis assigned himself to go on the 5th Crusade to preach to the Muslims in the Middle East. Despite the opposition of Cardinal Hugolino, Francis left for Egypt and reached Damietta. However, he was taken prisoner by the enemy. He preached to the sultan, Malik-al-Kamil, who freed him. He visited the Holy Land before returning to Italy.
All this shows that Francis truly was filled with a missionary spirit. Francis’ missionary method surpassed the criteria and method of the Crusades. Crusades have been described as “armed pilgrimages to conquer, defend or – after 1187 – recapture the Holy Places. From 1095 to 1271, there were eight Crusades organized to liberate the Holy Land. Francis used the Crusades as an occasion to carry out part of what has been called his “Three-point Strategy for Mission,”4 namely, 1) witness; 2) Proclamation; and 3) Martyrdom. This was his opportunity to carry out his dearest wish for martyrdom which he regarded as the highest form of Christian witness. Francis joined the 5th Crusade armed only with charity and missionary zeal with a program of evangelization of the Muslims. He believed that love would overcome all barriers. He was first a missionary and then a Crusader. Francis wanted to convert the Saracens and pagans as his main task. He was willing to suffer and die for Christ.
3. Francis and Evangelization Francis was ready to evangelize by persuasion and not by imposing his ideas on others. This is reflected in his Early Rule where he admonished his brothers to love and respect pagans and not to believe that they were any better than the pagans who, if they had received the same graces, would have been better than they were. Francis wanted to convert them with love. He reminded those who went away as missionaries that they were sent by the Church. They were carrying out a “supreme act of obedience5,” and were pleasing to God. Though Francis was unsuccessful in converting the sultan or achieving martyrdom or bring about peace with the Muslims, this remained Francis’ dream.
Francis always sought the approval of the Church for missionary work. The “missio” conferred by superiors, according to the Franciscan Rule, was conferred in the name of the Church. It was the Church which granted privileges and concessions. Missionary outreach had to come from the Church. If the missionary outreach came from the charism, it could not spread and develop without the Church’s help. So that Franciscan and Dominican friars were sent out not by their superiors, but by the Holy See. For example, friars have always worked in collaboration with the hierarchy: Francis asked the Papal Legate for permission to go to the sultan; the friars who went to Morocco and were martyred had been in contact with the Archbishop of Seville in Spain.
Most brothers at that time, both at home and in mission lands, were lay-brothers, and not priests. They were able to relate well with the people and were moved by a vision of universal brotherhood. For example, Francis, in both of his Rules, is respectful of the gifts of others: all (both clerics and lay) could go among the Saracens and pagans. (Preference was always given to the Saracens (= Muslims) even though Christians and Saracens were bitter enemies.)
Francis was very practical when it came to sending friars into other lands on mission. Friars were to become rooted locally and to help local candidates religious to become fully mature and autonomous. For example, the friars he sent to Morocco – and were later martyred – were told to make clothes suitable for entering an entirely Muslim territory. They also had the dispensation to use money even when Francis was still alive. They were also allowed to follow local customs e.g. having a beard or not; or changing the habit to suit a particular environment.6
Francis’ experience and teaching were so strong that it had considerable influence upon the Church in the 13th century. The Order’s missionary outreach would have a great influence on the promotion of vocations, as happened with St Anthony of Padua, and Brother Elias’ and Francis’ proselytising in the East.” Francis left us in chapter 16 of his Early Rule what has been called his “Three-point Strategy” of carrying out mission work which we noted above. Francis wanted to reach the entire world. This is also clear in his letters. See his Second Letter to all the Faithful: “To all Christians, religious, secular and lay, men and women, all the inhabitants of the world….” (2 LFd) Francis Missionary intuition was well ahead of his time. The Franciscan Order was regarded as a Missionary Order within the Church and this factor was a reason why many men wanted to be part of it.
Questions for Discussion
What events in Francis’ early life do you think show his adventurous spirit?
How did Francis show his complete trust in God?
Can you identify any elements of this missionary spirit of Francis in his Rule and Testament? Discuss these elements.
THE FIRST MISSIONARY EXPANSION OF THE ORDER
A BRIEF HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
It is important that we see Franciscan Mission in its context. For this reason, the first part of this Unit will be devoted to some important historical facts which will help us understand the unique Franciscan approach to Mission and the spirituality of Franciscan Mission. Necessarily, due to space, time and the limits of our study here, this overview will be very brief and can only cover certain aspects in certain areas. There are many other mission areas where the friars went to carry out the work of evangelization. This could be the topic of individual study e.g. the part the friars played in exploration of new lands viz. America, Australia or Papua New Guinea.
Earlier, we saw how Francis was thoroughly taken up by his zeal for missionary activity. In this section we shall see how his spirit moved others to follow his ideas and how the Franciscan Mission developed.
1. In the time of Francis
If we look briefly at the first Franciscan missionary expeditions, it is obvious that those early missionaries were burning with a desire to spread the Gospel message. From 1217 onwards, after the institution of Provinces within the Order which gave a ‘personality’ to geographical areas, it also created provincial institutions by zones where the Franciscan movement had not yet been implanted. These were potential provinces in the future e.g. Germany, France and England.
Having started from Umbria, the Order spread to northern and southern Italy, to France, Spain, Germany, to the Balkans and England; and then towards the East: Syria and Egypt; and towards the West: Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Muslim Spain. Other fields opened later, such as the vast Balkan hinterland, the separated brethren of the Byzantine empire and the north-European regions and Eastern Europe.7
2. After Francis: The Order’s Re-Thinking of Missionary Work Francis had no intellectual preparation whatsoever for his direct contact with the Islamic world. He didn’t know the language nor anything about Muslim institutions and culture. The importance and characteristic of Francis’ attempt lies in the missionary methodology he inaugurated, as set forth in his Early Rule, which consists in peaceful confrontation, sustained and guided by great charity and love. That attitude was quite different to the spirit of the Crusades.
Following the mission failures of 1217 and 1219, there was period when the friars re-examined their organization and took account of their former experiences. The Franciscan mission after Francis, through the work of Raymond Lull and others who had a greater knowledge of the Muslim world than the earlier missionaries, had greater success. It is good to note that no Franciscan mission was carried out again with the support of an invading army. These early missionaries’ objectives were, like Francis’, missionary preaching and “conversion” as a call to faith, and martyrdom.
In choosing a mission, at the beginning, it was up to the individual according to the opportunity as it presented itself. But later when the Order expanded, the Chapters felt more involved. There was planning: northern and southern Italy first; then other areas that were noted above.
From the 1220s onwards, the Provinces were divided into “Custodies” with “Custodians” appointed and subject to Provincial Ministers who enjoyed vast powers also for expansion in neighbouring regions where the Order may not have been established. Therefore, initially the “Custody” was an effective instrument for conquering new areas. The tendency to build permanent dwellings for the brothers had already begun with a great outlay of money. By the time of the 1260s the Order had spread all over Europe. The period after that was devoted to stabilization of the Order.
3. Franciscan Mission to the East
Perhaps Br Elias has not been appreciated for the great work that he did during his life-time because of early disputes in the Order. Br Elias was elected provincial of the first group in the East. In 1219, while Francis together with Pietro Cattani, the Illuminato from Rieti, and some others went to the East with the 5th Crusade, another group of six brothers were sent to Morocco but only five arrived there since Vitale, their leader became sick and remained in Seville. These were the first Franciscan martyrs who died on 16 January, 1220. Their death inspired an Augustinian canon, Ferdinand, to join the Order. He is now known as St Anthony of Padua.
4. Distribution of Mission Areas
In 1217, Francis had entrusted the foundation of the Eastern Province to Br Elias. That included the entire East: Constantinople with its Empire and islands, Asia Minor and Armenia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and all the rest of the Near East. Br Elias converted Cesario, a German born in Spires, subdeacon, and a disciple in theology of Maestro Corrado of Spires, during the sea crossing for the Crusades. Elias laid the foundations for various Franciscan places e.g. Constantinople, Acri and probably Antioch, Tripoli, Beirut, Tyre and Jerusalem. In 1263, this Province was divided into two: Syria – the Holy Land and Romania-Greece. In Bonaventure’s time (1257 – 1274) the Holy Land Province included 3 Custodies with 19 – 23 friaries; the Romanian Province had 3 Custodies and 12 friaries.
The Brothers’ activity in the East was very varied: they even acted as preachers for the Crusades; others worked as chaplains in battles, as nuncios to Sultans and kings, also responsible for preparing the ground for the union of the Greek Church as popular preachers and real pioneers. Many more friars died for their faith after the example of the Moroccan martyrs: Seven years after Francis’ meeting with sultan Malik-al-Kamil, another group of seven friars were put to death at Septa/Ceuta on 10th October, 1227. in 1231, two friars were martyred in Spain. Their persecutor, King Azoto, became a Christian in 1238 and left his palace to the friars to use as a friary. In 1232 five brothers were massacred in the church of St Mary in Fez together with a large number of Christians. These are only some of the large number of friars who offered their lives for the sake of the Gospel.
Activity and Discussion
What would you regard as some of the strengths and some of the weaknesses of Francis’ approach to missionary work?
What improvements were suggested by the friars after Francis’ death?
Why was the Order divided up into Provinces and Custodies?
What are some characteristics of Franciscan approaches to mission in the time of the early Franciscans?
THE MONGOL MISSION
Introduction: The European Situation in the Middle Ages
One of the greatest hazards that faced missionaries in the 13th and early 14th centuries were the Mongols. These were nomadic people with a strong military organization and became a serious threat to the West under Ghengis Khan (1206-1227) and his successor, Ogdi Khan (1229-1241). In 1241, the Mongol Empire was immense. It included China, Persia, Armenia, Asia Minor and Russia as far as Frauli in northern Italy. It had even reached the Adriatic coast of Italy. This meant that the Mongols had conquered the whole of Asia north of the Himalayas, from Syria to Korea. Europe regarded them as barbarians and an enemy to be overcome. However, this did not take into account the fact that many of the people whom the Mongols had overcome were Christians e.g. in Syria. Also the Mongol Emperors and princes were mostly tolerant and superstitiously respectful to all religions. Missionary outreach was still possible.
The Pope and the two mendicant Orders (Franciscans and Dominicans) found it almost impossible to carry out their objectives of preaching to and conversion of the Muslims, so they began to turn to other more promising areas. They had many non-Catholics who lived in the Mediterranean region and in Iran and Central Asia and on the borders of China. For a time, there was great hope that these areas could be a rich field for missionaries with the conversion of John Pretre8, a Christian sovereign in Southern Asia who revolted against Islam. At the death of Ogdi, the Mongols returned unexpectedly to Asia.
During the preparations for the first Ecumenical Council of Lyons (1245), the Pope chose the friars (Franciscan and Dominican) to carry out the work of ambassadors to intercede for him and so stopped the invasion into Europe.
SOME OF THE EARLY FRIAR MISSIONARIES
In order to understand the efforts of these early missionaries we need to see the relationship that Europe had with Asia at this time. These two have been described as “oases in a wilderness of barbarism.”9 It was only gradually that these two areas were connected with one another by a common culture and became a civilized world. Europe attained political unity in the Roman Empire in the first century BC.
In the Far East, another similar unity was achieved by China – the Middle Kingdom. It achieved unity much earlier than Europe in 216 BC. Southern Asia also achieved unity in India and extended its influence to the South-East to Cambodia and Java, but these areas in Southern Asia never achieved political unity.
Finally, between India and the Roman Empire there was the civilization of Persia which was the oasis culture of the Iranian plateau but tended to expand at the expense of the Indian civilization in the East and the Roman Hellenistic civilization to the West.
To the north of this chain of oases civilizations from the Roman frontiers to the Great Wall of China there stretched for thousands of kilometres of the outer wilderness “like the ocean sea” as William of Rubruck described it. This was the domain of the barbarians. Each of the oasis civilizations had its own barbarian neighbours who preyed upon it or were dominated by it, until eventually they became almost domesticated.
The Moslems (= Saracens) had shown themselves as enemies of Catholicism in Africa and in Spain. They occupied the Holy Places and that brought about the Crusades not only for religious motives but out of hatred for them also. Francis discovered this and dissociated himself from the 5th Crusade and went about his work of converting the enemy to the Gospel ideals. That effort, we know, failed. However, this did not deter later missionaries, both Dominicans and Franciscans, in continuing their missionary efforts.
In about the year 1223, the Dominicans, under the protection of the king of Hungary, reached the Comans who lived in the Ukrainian steppes. A wave of conversions followed which gave the Pope hope of greater conversions in Asia. However, the Mongol invasion wiped out every trace of the Comanian mission, but they also destroyed the Moslem Empires of the Middle East. There were many Nestorians who remained in reasonable freedom but apparently Innocent IV did not regard them as enemies. The Pope sent ambassadors to them to explore the ground and seek unity with the Church. Later, he gave the task to two Franciscans, Dominic of Aragon and John of Piano di Carpine. Here are some of the main early Franciscan missionaries:
JOHN OF PIAN DEL CARPINE (1182 – 1252) John was born in Umbria. He joined the Order and spent twenty years in Germany when Innocent IV entrusted him with the delicate and difficult task of going to the capital of the Mongol Empire, Qaraqorum. John was a likeable man, spiritual and learned, a companion of St Francis, and a great speaker. He had already been a Provincial Minister in the Order: Custodian and Minister of Saxony, Germany and Spain in 1223-1229. He had also expanded the Order in Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, Denmark and Norway. On the 16th April, 1245, at the age of 65, he set out for the first Catholic Mission to the Mongols from Lyons with Brother Stephen from Bohemia (who died on the journey) and Benedict from Poland. He reached Kiev in Russia and the Volga River. After six months, he reached Mongol territory where he found the remains of cities and burnt out villages. Finally, he reached Qaraqorum on 22nd July, 1246. He was received with all the honours of an ambassador. He presented Guyuk Khan (1246-1248) the Pope’s letters. He attended the magnificent enthronement of the Emperor. He used his freedom of movement to collect valuable information about the military, and the Mongol people. It was some months later that he received the Emperor’s arrogant reply to the Pope, telling the Pope to come and pay allegiance to him. So John returned home, arriving in November, 1247. He had travelled a journey of 25 000 kilometres. The Pope was grateful and satisfied. He nominated him as Archbishop of Antivari in Montenegro. His work about the Mongols remains even today of high value. The way the friars opened to the Mongols gave rise to new missions and gave the West greater confidence, so that they even began to visualise a rapid conversion of the Tartar world. There were even some who said that the Great Khan’s mother was Christian (East-Syrian Church) and that the Emperor himself had a great liking for Christians.
WILLIAM OF RUBRUCK († c. 1270) William was a native of Flanders. He was sent also to the great Khan Mungke (1251-1259) by the King of France, St Louis IX together with Bartholomew of Cremona. They set out in 1252 and, after two years of misadventures, reached Qaraqorum in 1254. Having done their mission, they returned home with another important report. William had a very different personality to John of Pian Carpine. He was not a Papal legate but a simple friar who had accompanied King Louis in his Crusade and remained with him in the Holy Land until 1252. While there, William met the Dominicans on their return journey from their mission among the Mongol commanders in Iran. They told him about Western prisoners of the Mongols who had no spiritual assistance. He gained permission from the King to embark on this mission filled with zeal. He went without any official position or credentials except a letter to the Christian prince Sartaq asking him to allow the friar to preach and assist Christians. The Holy See was unaware of his departure. Strictly speaking, the only approval he needed was that of his local superiors. He started out from Crimea and followed approximately the same route as John. It was difficult because the two friars did not have any Papal privileges or dispensations. They had to cross Asia in late Autumn wearing only their habits, barefoot in sandals, and observing as far as possible the fasts and abstinences prescribed by the Rule. Having reached their destination, they were received graciously, but their audience with the Emperor was spoiled somewhat because both their interpreter and the Emperor were drunk. However, they were allowed to preach for six months in the encampment and later in the capital Qaraqorum. They were surprised to find a European community there of artisans in the service of the Mongolians. Some had been prisoners of the Mongols but later came on their own initiative as merchants, adventurers, sorcerers, etc. The East-Syrian Church was in great favour at court where the Khan’s mother and his first wife had been Christians and other Christian high officials. Relations with native clergy were cold, but not hostile. In 1254, William received permission to set out again and after a difficult journey, he reached the Holy Land. He sent his report on his journeys to the king the next year, 1255. His Itinerarium was a mine of information about geography and the language as well as the Mongol people. William was, above all, a missionary. His relations with King Louis were not such that Louis would make him an ambassador. His apostolic zeal dominated everything so that it became an obstacle among the Mongols that he stayed with. William was an upright man and opposed to compromises. His sincere, and often annoying, criticism of other religions would not create a favourable environment for him among East-Syrian Christians, or among Buddhists. After the death of Kublai Khan, the central power of the Mongols became increasingly weaker. Kublai’s brother, Mungke, claimed his heritage and was elected himself as Khan in 1260. His authority was disputed by his younger brother in Mongolia and by his cousin in Central Asia who followed the Islamic religion. However, before that occurred, for the entire second half of the 13th century, the Mongols in Iran conducted an anti-Islamic policy, seeking the agreement of the European sovereigns as well as the French in the Near East. They wanted to fight against the Mamelukes of Egypt and needed allies to help them. This was more or less approved by the Holy See. However, other European leader were more interested in their own national ambitions rather than another Crusade. Also there was a growing interest in trade with China and trade routes were opening up. In Asia, and later in Africa, there was a close connection between missionary exploits and commercial journeys. At times, merchants went before the missionaries; at other times, the missionaries went first. John of Pian Carpine went before the merchants to Mongolia in his time. But the Polo’s10 opened the China road to the Franciscans, bringing the Pope Kublai’s request to send him a hundred wise men of Christian law who knew the seven arts. Furthermore, in their material necessities missionaries relied on merchants in various ways. Merchants were a source of financial aid and made it easier for them to enter court and commercial circles.
JOHN OF MONTECORVINO (12347-1328) John of Pian Carpine and William of Rubruck were essentially isolated episodes, but John of Montecorvino truly led to the creation of a solid mission in the Archdiocese of Cambalue. These were sent by the Holy See which took charge of missionary activity, giving precise directives and making use of more suitable organizations. The two mendicant Orders were appointed to choose and prepare missionaries in Asia. China was assigned to the Franciscans. However, there was an organic regulation only with the Bull Ut igitur of Benedict XII in 1336: the absolute prohibition to preach through an interpreter, who was unable to give the missionary’s arguments faithfully, a thorough knowledge of Sacred Scripture and knowledge of the doctrinal characteristics of Asian Christians. The Friars Minor made their first attempt in 1278 with Gerard and his companions. They reached Iran, but we have no information about their mission. We know more about John of Montecorvino. John of Montecorvino came from Salerno in Southern Italy. He had been a missionary in Armenia and Persia (Iran). In 1289, he asked the Holy See for help Armenia against the Muslims. Nicholas IV saw the lack of interest in European leaders, and was impressed by the request from the great Kublai Khan (1260-1294) and brother of Mungke Khan, so he sent Brother John with four more friars to the Great Khan. They set out, crossed Georgia, Armenia and Persia (Iran) presenting letters from the Pope to the respective princes. He stayed in Persia for a few years before setting off with the merchant, Peter of Lucalongo who was returning home. He had a merchant shop in China. John left his companions behind. Since Kublai and Qaidu were at war in Central Asia, they decided to go by sea. After a long five year voyage and a stop on the Indian coasts, in 1294, the two companions arrived in what is now Peking. Kublai had died a few months earlier, but his successor received John with respect. John stayed there until his death in 1328 with the sole desire to bring the Kingdom to the Tartars and the Chinese. John of Montecorvino can truly be called the founder of the Catholic Church in the Far East. His first pastoral activity was among the East-Syrians who lived in the north-west of the capital. He converted their prince George and built a church there. But most of his work was done amongst foreigners. John learnt Turkish (Mongolian) and translated the Gospels and the psalms into that language. He wrote 32 hymns in Latin and had paintings done of events in the Old and New Testament. He tried to form an indigenous clergy which was the first time such a thing had been attempted. He did not learn Chinese but had about 4000 baptisms during the first twelve years of his stay in China. He wrote extensively and built churches in Peking. Much evidence of his work still remains. Clement V created John of Montecorvino the first archbishop of Cambaluc and patriarch of the East with jurisdiction over the whole Mongol Empire.
BLESSED ODORIC OF PORDONONE († 1331) Odoric was a Franciscan missionary of a Czech family named Mattiussi He was born at Villanuova near Pordenone, Friuli, Italy. He entered the Order in Udine in about the year 1300. it was about the middle of the 13th century when the Holy See commissioned the Franciscans to undertake missions to the interior of Asia. The first ones to be sent were John of Piano Carpini, William of Rubruck and John of Montecorvino. Odoric was sent to follow in their footsteps.
In April, 1318, Odoric set out from Padua and, after crossing the Black Sea, arrived in Persia. He travelled to a number of places around Persia before coming to to Tana on the Island of Salsette, north of Bombay. Here he gathered the remains of Thomas of Tolentino, Jacopo of Padua, Pietro of Siena, and Demetrius of Tiflis, Franciscans who, a short time before, had suffered martyrdom, and took them with him so as to bury them in China.
From Salsette he went to Malabar, then to Madras and Ceylon. He then to Sumoltra (Sumatra); Java, Banjarmasin on the southern coast of Borneo, and Cochin China, and finally reached Canton in China. From Canton he travelled to Zaitoum, the largest Chinese seaport in the Middle Ages, and Che-kiang, and went overland by way of Fu-cheu, the capital of the province of Fokien, to Quinsay (Hangcheufu), celebrated by Marco Polo. He remained in China and went to Nanking, Yangchufu, and finally travelled by the great canal and the Hwangho River to Khan-balig or Peking, the capital of the Great Khan. At that time the aged Montecorvino was still archbishop in Peking, where Odoric remained three years. On his return journey he went overland by way of Chan-si through Tibet, from there apparently by way of Badachschan to the Tauris and Armenia, reaching home in 1330.
Odoric has been called “the greatest traveller in the Middle Ages.” [He had left Europe in 1314 for the East with a companion, James from Ireland. He worked five or six years in Armenia and Persia (Iraq today). He travelled through Constantinople and Iran to the Persian Gulf where he embarked on a ship for India. He visited SriLanka and Madras and from there set out for Sumatra, Java, Borneo (modern Indonesia). And finally he travelled by land to Canton-Nanking-Yangchow along the great Imperial Canal as far as Peking. He remained there for three years (1325-1328) before returning overland to India.] Odoric had planned to go to Avignon to get the Pope’s permission to take 50 of his confreres with him to China to carry out some missionary work. However, this was the time of the schism and that was a reason he did not carry out his plan. He went to Padua in Italy in 1330 where he dictated his Journeys to the Infidels. He died a year later in Udine. He was declared Blessed in 1775.
This story could go on but we must leave that for a separate study. However, this is sufficient to show the Franciscan outreach in those early times and which continues to today. It might seem to some all these efforts came to nothing, as some would say, Francis’ efforts failed to achieve their objective. Those areas still remain difficult areas for missionaries. But new missionary areas have opened up and where the Gospel failed to reach before, it has reached other areas more open to missionary efforts.
These are only a sample of what the Friars did in the early period. Later periods brought even greater rewards especially in the New World where Franciscan mission work was very extensive. This is sufficient to show the work of evangelization was well under way from the very early days of the Order.
THE CALIFORNIA MISSIONS
Among the missionary work of recent centuries, the work of Fray Junipero Serra stands out as one of the most prominent Franciscans whose work continues in the region of California, U.S.A. In considering the California Missions, we shall concentrate on this one man who did so much to transform society during his lifetime. It was this missionary priest who brought Christianity to California and founded what is known as the Spanish Missions. From these grew the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as Santa Barbara, San Diego, Santa Clara and many more – most named after Franciscans.
FRAY JUNIPERO SERRA
Fray Junipero Serra was born on the Spanish island of Majorca on the 24th November, 1713 of peasant parents in the village of Petra. He was called Miguel Jose, a name which was changed to Junipero when he became a Franciscan friar in honour of the early friar Juniper who was a companion of St Francis of Assisi. Junipero studied for the priesthood and became a well established teacher of philosophy by the year 1737.
Fray Juniper had a longing to preach the Gospel as a missionary and after twelve years his request was granted. He departed from Spain in 1749 with a group of twenty Franciscans set sail for Vera Cruz on the coast of Mexico in the New World. With him were seven Domincans and among the friars were two companions from his home in Majorca, Juan Crespi and Francisco Palou who also were to play a big role in the foundation of the Californian mission.
Upon their arrival at Vera Cruz, Junipero persuaded another friar to walk the 300 km journey through a mountainous region to the capital, Mexico city. On the way, Junipero was bitten by a snake which made him lame for the rest of his life. It is said that when he limped into San Fernando College, Mexico city, the Guardian there greeted him with the words spoken by St Francis many years before, “Would that we had a forest of these junipers!”
From 1750 to 1767, a period of eighteen years, Junipero worked on the home mission. At first, he was sent with some others to “reactivate a run-down mission” to the Pame Indians of Sierra Gorda. After that he returned to preach to the fashionable ladies and gentlemen of New Spain. It has been related how passionate he was in his sermons so that his congregation was moved to action – sometimes to extremes. But we are told also that, away from the pulpit, Fray Junipero was the most compassionate of men and a true lover of the poor, “a lion in the pulpit, a lamb in the confessional.”11
Fray Junipero lived in a community of about 30 friars at San Fernando College. Their main apostolate was dedicated to pagan areas and had pioneered Missions to the remote parts of Mexico, in Central America and New Mexico before Junipero came. Now, he was sent to continue this work.
THE CALIFORNIAN MISSIONS, 1769 – 1784
Junipero set out with 64 others for Monterey with a mandate from the King of Spain “to occupy and fortify San Diego and Monterey.” The group was made of soldiers, artisans and Friar Crespi and Commander Portola at the head. Strangely, when they reached their destination, they did not recognize it, so they retraced their steps and returned to San Diego. Once there, they discovered that one supply ship was lost at sea; another reached the harbour but its crew was suffering badly from scurvy, and, in their absence from the encampment, the Indians had ransacked it. The soldiers fired on the Indians and killed at least one of them. Due to lack of supplies and many had died from scurvy and also because they failed to see Monterey, an intense gloom fell on all of the 250 persons who were there. Commander Portola wanted to return to Lower California but Junipero and the friars were totally opposed to this.
One hope remained. There was another ship with supplies that was due to come but was running late. The question was “Had this ship been lost at sea? Was it still coming? If not, they would put everyone at risk by remaining. The friars led the company in a novena to St Joseph which would end on his feast, 19th March. The Masses were celebrated, hymns sung and litanies chanted. On the very last day of the novena, at sunset, the little miracle happened. The watchers saw the sails of a ship which carried supplies. Everyone was overjoyed. The Mission was saved!
Re-stocked and having eaten well, Portola agreed to go back on his trail. This time they easily recognized the bay of Monterey. Portola travelled by land; Junipero by the rescue ship and the men and materials were landed. They prepared to fortify the place and set up the religious Mission. At last, Fray Junipero was free to concentrate on his major task of converting the Indians. He learnt the language which he found quite a challenge. He began to instruct the Indians in the faith.
There were two groups of Indians: one group were difficult to instruct. They were more inclined to be lazy and spend their time in playing games when they were not out hunting and fishing or gathering edible roots and fruits. However, they had no idea about buildings and farming. The men and boys went around naked, but the women were dressed modestly. The other group of Indians were very different. They were tall and strong and industrious. They built reasonable houses and made excellent canoes. They were also warlike and gave the Spanish soldiers some opposition. However, when they were pacified, they became excellent Christians. There were about 15 000 of them. There were approximately 150 thousand Indians in the area from San Diego to San Francisco.
The army had the task of protecting the missionaries and the colonists and so they built forts and barracks first at San Diego, San Francisco and San Diego and the Monasteries. The Commander lived at Monterey with the “Padre Presidente”, as Serra was called.
In each of the two forts at San Diego and Monterey, there were some forty soldiers stationed. Small groups of these, four to six men, were assigned to a Mission Station when it was begun. The missionaries could not make a journey without having the company of at least two soldiers.
When we look back on such an arrangement, it appears to have been a very small squad of soldiers to deal with a possible insurrection of the Indians. Yet it was to prove enough. The soldiers wore leather and were fully armed. There were Spanish tradesmen there to lend the military a hand if necessary.
Financially, there were large sums of money spent in the founding of the missions. The friars themselves needed support, even though it was small by our modern standards. Church structures had to be set up. Artisans came with the expedition who build workshops and dormitories for Indian women and huts for the men. Most of these expenses were cared for through a “pious fund”, the gift of devout Spanish Catholics. In this way, the Mission centres were built.
The Fort and Mission, Monterey: The San Diego fort-mission came first in 1769, but had to be re-founded in 1775. Monterey came next in 1770. It was from Monterey that the friars began their apostolate to the Indians. The first Indian to be baptized was on Christmas day in 1770. Gradually the mission spread to Carmel where there were many more converts. Today, there is a string of mission stations in what is called the Spanish Mission.
The story of this mission and many others would be a fascinating study but we must limit this to these two examples.
We are told that the word “evangelisation” proclaims “salvation” as understood as the “great gift of God which is liberation from everything that oppresses human beings and especially liberation from sin and the evil one.”12 This definition is in line with biblical and Christian tradition. Schorr points out that in the Exodus, for example, was not a “purely spiritual” even. It was also very much an economic, political and cultural liberation that was referred to. Salvation means freeing people from “dehumanizing poverty” that afflicts so many people today. This topic will be seen in the final section of this book in Unit Eight.
“Mission”, therefore, must be seen in its broadest sense and that is part of the Christian vocation, and more particularly, an essential element of the Franciscan calling to follow the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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