Father Peter M. Escalante is the current parish priest of the basilica mission of San Diego de Alcalá, the first of the 21 that were founded in the current state of California
San Junípero Serra and those who continued his work. The birth of this religious enclave 250 years ago, on July 16, 1769, marked the beginning of colonization by the Spaniards of the west coast of what is now the United States. From this mission, the current city of San Diego also emerged. Escalante, the twenty-second successor of the Mallorcan saint friar, speaks to ABC from San Diego about the relevance of this 250th anniversary and tells how they live it in their congregation.
How relevant is the mission in the history of California and the Christian expansion in North America?
It is the first of 21 missions, where the written history of California begins, the first permanent settlement of Spain in Alta California, where the first seeds were planted, thus preparing the land for the great agricultural state of California, and the first union of people to establish Christianity.
As successor of San Junípero Serra, what is your legacy?
I am proud, I follow his legacy by welcoming people, offering eloquent liturgies and a place of spirituality and welcome for all. Father Serra considered the sanctuary missions in the face of daily work and difficulties and, with our priests and parishioners, we strive to continue his legacy.
In recent years the controversy over the treatment of natives has been revived. How was it really?
We try to base the story on original sources. For the writings, diaries and inventories, we know that the purpose of the Spaniards was to reclaim this region for Spain and introduce Christianity. Father Serra treated the natives who came to the mission as a father to their children. The Spaniards introduced agriculture into a hunter-gatherer culture, the adobe in a village that lived in cabins of branches, the shearing, weaving of cloth and livestock where horses, cows, sheep and pigs had never been seen. Although we suffer some negativity, we maintain the legacy of the Franciscans welcoming and giving food and drink to all.
What are the objectives of the mission today?
Be careful administrators of the precious lands and buildings of the mission, pending conservation and renovation.
How do you celebrate this 250th anniversary?
There are events every month of 2019. July is especially important. This weekend the Festival of the Bells was celebrated, in which the bells of the mission were blessed and touched, the animals were blessed and there was entertainment, food, booths and a sample of mission history.