“But right now, in this moment, we are sad for what we have lost.”
The San Gabriel fire is one of several fires and acts of vandalism at churches across the country this weekend. On Friday, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was vandalized in Queens, New York. Another statue of Mary was set on fire early Sunday morning outside a Boston parish. Police are investigating both incidents.
On Saturday, in Florida, a man drove a minivan into the front of Queen of Peace Catholic church in Ocala, poured gasoline in the foyer and set fire to the building while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass. Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest. According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication.
The fire also comes after numerous statues of St. Junipero Serra have been torn down in California: at the state capitol in Sacramento, in Los Angeles, and in San Francisco, while protestors have called for similar statues to be moved or torn down in other cities. While Serra, a Franciscan missionary priest, is regarded as a founder of California and an evangelist to indigenous people, some critics say he was complicit in human rights abuses in the eighteenth century. His supporters say Serra defended the rights and dignity of native people.
Gomez said that the fire at San Gabriel was especially painful as “this destruction comes as we are getting ready to celebrate the 250th anniversary of this great mission.”
“But this fire changes nothing,” said the archbishop. “Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles, the place from which the Gospel still goes forth.”
“You trace your roots all the way back to the beginnings of the Christian faith in California, before the founding of the United States. In fact, you are one of the few Catholic communities in this continent that can claim to be founded by a saint.”
As he prayed to St. Serra Saturday night, Gomez said, he recalled that the saint also “knew sufferings every day in his service to the Gospel.”
“I thought, 'what would St. Junípero tell us this morning?' And I remembered his beautiful little prayer: ‘Let us bear every hardship for the love of You and the salvation of souls. In our trials, may we know that we are loved as Your own children.’ Let’s make that our prayer this morning, my brothers and sisters.”
Noting the words of St. Paul in the readings of Mass, in which the apostle says “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us,” Gomez said the readings of the day were a call to faith, hope, and action.
“He made us for glory — not for pain, not for sorrow!” Gomez said.
“We can’t give in to this sadness. We need to make this a moment for purification and renewal of our mission — renewal of the Mission of San Gabriel and renewal of the mission that is each one of our lives.”
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“St. Junípero and the first Franciscan missionaries answered the Lord’s call and sacrificed everything to bring his Word to this land,” said Gomez. “Now it is our turn to make sure his Word is proclaimed to the next generation. We can’t harden our hearts or become distracted by the anxieties and temptations of the world.”
“St. Junípero would tell us today: “Siempre Adelante!” Always Forward, and don’t look back.”