By Tyler Orsburn
WASHINGTON — Today Catholic News Service launched its Catholic Home Missions Project, a project inspired by the canonization of St. Junipero Serra back in September.
More than 20,000 people attended the Sept. 23, 2015, canonization Mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the Spanish Franciscan at the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The Franciscan Monastery in Washington had a Mass of celebration the following day.
St. Junipero Serra is credited with founding nine missions in California, and one in Baja California, Mexico. Friars under his tutelage founded many others across California, in a territory that was then part of New Spain.
Steven Hackel, a history professor at the University of California at Riverside who has written a biography, “Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father,” told CNS he thinks St. Junipero Serra as one of the little-heralded “‘founding fathers’ of the United States,” because he helped settle areas beyond the East Coast and was a contemporary of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Last spring we did a series of video stories on the life and ministry of St. Junipero and his evangelizing mission, and we included the views of some critical of the friar over his treatment of native peoples and their culture.
But what is a modern-day mission in the United States? Is it still just about evangelizing and baptizing? And how does the mission experience differ from St. Junipero Serra’s day in 1769 when he walked from Baja California, Mexico, and into what would become San Diego?
One difference is population density. No longer is west of the Mississippi River considered the Wild, Wild West. Another difference is cultural diversity. Native Americans no longer populate the landscape as they did in the 18th century. What would become the United States is now a mosaic of cultures that represents all continents.
Now, 247 years after St. Junipero Serra’s first mission was established in Southern California, the Catholic Church is firmly interwoven into the fabric of the land of the free and home of the brave.
Starting today — with stories, videos and photos — our reports on Catholic Home Missions take us to North Carolina, Texas, Idaho and Puerto Rico — four of the U.S. Catholic churches mission dioceses. The U.S. bishops’ define a “mission diocese” as having limited resources for funding both basic and essential pastoral works and ministries, and covering a vast territory served by small number of priests, religious sisters, lay ministers and other pastoral workers.
From Raleigh, North Carolina, we share the experience of Iraqi refugees who say the church has helped them establish community in a new land; in Beaumont, Texas, we look at marriage, family life, and campus ministry at Lamar University; in Idaho, we talk to parishioners who drive nearly one hour to get to their church community two or three times per week and who say the time sacrifice is worth it for them and their family; and in Puerto Rico, we give an account of a physician-turned-priest who helps the disenfranchised struggling with poverty, drug addiction, cancer and mental illness.
According to the 2014 annual report on the U.S. church’s Catholic Home Missions Appeal, a national collection, 41 percent of all home mission dioceses in the United States received grants from the appeal. The report showed that U.S. Catholics contributed over $9.3 million for home missions in 2014; and the fund earned more than $1.6 million in income on investments.
Details about the Catholic Home Missions are available here.
The Catholic Home Mission Appeal this year is April 24, and always falls on the last Sunday in April. Jessi Pore is director of Catholic Home Missions, which is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of National Collections and Office of National Collections.
“Catholics in the United States are incredibly generous to the needy dioceses here at home each year,” she told CNS. “Over the last 10 years, American Catholics have helped provide nearly $100 million to strengthening our church here at home.”
Mission dioceses interested in applying for grants must do so by April 1 of every year. A Catholic Home Mission subcommittee reviews the grants and makes decisions on funding in the fall based on review criteria, Pore said.