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The missionary spirit that moves the Church

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As I viewed an old saddle used by the early missionaries, I wondered what it was like to come from the Spanish culture to a foreign culture and learn its languages, customs and how easy it is to violate a custom.

Father Eugene
Hemrick

It is one thing to read history, yet more impressive to touch it. Recently, I had the pleasure of a visit to the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo in Carmel, California.

The mission, which was founded in June 1770, is where Blessed Junipero Serra worked and died. As I viewed the cell in which he slept, it brought back memories of his life.

He was born in Spain and joined the Franciscans. Even though he was a brilliant student and teacher and could have remained in Spain, he opted instead to embark for the missions of Mexico.

Early on, he injured his leg, an injury that would plague him throughout his life. The injury, however, did not deter him from establishing missions and making long journeys on foot to baptize and confirm thousands of indigenous people.

As I viewed an old saddle used by the early missionaries, I wondered what it was like to come from the Spanish culture to a foreign culture and learn its languages, customs and how easy it is to violate a custom.

For example, in one case I read about, many of the indigenous children the missionaries encountered were undernourished. As was customary in Spain, milk was given to children to bolster and improve their strength. However, the indigenous children couldn't tolerate milk. It was one of many hard lessons the Franciscan missionaries had to learn.

As I viewed the old kitchen, sitting rooms and crude tools of the times in the museum, I wondered about what drives the missionary spirit in our church. Why do men and women opt for a foreign culture, learn its customs and literally forsake family and the comforts of home?

No doubt a sense of youthful adventure is one of the driving forces in missionaries. But as I learned, when I visited Guatemala, wanderlust fades quickly when you get amebic dysentery or the weather is dismal for weeks on end. You need more than a sense of adventure to survive.

Ultimately, the drive behind the missionary spirit is the spirit of Christ who taught that the purpose of life is to serve others, especially those in most need. It is to live the Golden Rule: to treat others as you want to be treated; to let your heart rule over your mind, allowing it to warm another's heart.

Come September, Blessed Serra will be canonized. Yes, we will extol his virtues, but it will also be a time to extol the missionary spirit upon which our Church is founded.

FATHER HEMRICK IS A COLUMNIST WITH THE CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE.

FatherEugene Hemrick is a columnist for Catholic News Service

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