Proceedings of the Second Annual Mission Research Conference
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Msgr. Balthasar J. Janacek, Director
Old Spanish Missions
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio

Years ago, Pete DeVries, with the aid of Curtis Tunnel and others concerned with the missions, would get together over some tasty tacos at Mario's Restaurant and talk about the structural needs of our San Antonio missions. Once in a while we would also have the advantage of having O'Neil Ford to join in some of those sessions and that made our conversation even more picante than the sauce at Mario's.

To know that we had to do that a lot of times after everybody else's working hours and we really had to do all the thinking about the Missions for the future. — To know now that there is a National Park Service staff with all that competence working at the preservation and restoration of the Missions is certainly a dream devoutly to be wished, coming true.

I wanted to say just a little bit about the purpose of the conference by way of these words: The Spanish Missions, as many other sites in the New World, are not just perishable, historical monuments but the residues of a complete past. These Missions, rather, are living voices, each of which speaks with its own particular eloquence of the presence within North America of a cultural heritage that is still alive and with us. This is a heritage of values and beliefs of saints and sinners, of sword and cross, of unique art forms, speaking of and from two worlds. Of a unique and creative religious presence and, above all, of encounter of this presence with these indigenous peoples who probably were so numerous in our area of North America.

The roots of this encounter between peoples of vastly contrasting, yet mutually rich cultures were planted and tended during some three centuries of Spanish presence in North America. In fact, permanent settlements commenced in our Spanish Southwest, 22 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and ten years before French Quebec and nine years before the English Jamestown.

Somebody once said that had the pilgrims notified the citizens from New Spain, they could have been waiting with some warm tacos for the pilgrims when they landed at Plymouth Rock on a bleak December day in 1620.

Whether we accept these earliest Spanish roots or not, they are nevertheless entwined in a living manner with the many threads which constitute the fabric of what America is. Documenting, illuminating and commenting on this Spanish presence in the New World is a wealth of literature, historical, scholarly, anthropological and romantic. Inevitably there are also those records and commentaries which through commission and omission and out of bias and prejudice falsify the true nature of this Spanish presence and mission in North America.

Many questions and problems therefore remain to be addressed, both with human understanding and with that critical sense which any problematic historical epoch demands. If the mood of America's present moment seeks to lay hold of roots which tell its origin, which speak of the sense and the meaning of place and of who we are in time and place pointing us, perhaps, to new and positive alternatives, then the reality of some three centuries of Spanish presence is not inconsequential. Any new, imaginative and careful study of the multiple dimensions of this presence is therefore to be applauded. Especially to be applauded is the human warmth of understanding which you, along with the author of this particular piece, are going to add to this whole area of thought.

The words that I spoke were taken from Dr. Bruce Barton's book, The Tree at the Center of the World,1 and they were actually written about the California Missions, but they apply to our Missions as well. It seems to me that you are doing what Dr. Barton writes about in his introduction to The Tree at the Center of the World.

We want to thank you for coming to participate in this conference and wish you Godspeed, because that will be of benefit to all of us.

Thank you.

1Bruce Barton, The Tree at the Center of the World Santa Barbara: Ross-Erickson Press, 1980.

Msgr. Balthasar J. Janacek, Director Old Spanish Missions
Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio
Photo courtesy of Old Spanish Missions

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Last Updated: 24-Apr-2011