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The World Heritage weekend celebration closed with an outdoor Mass at Mission San José and Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller asking the congregation to give thanks to those who worked for nearly a decade to make the World Heritage designation a reality.
“Small beginnings often lead to surprising results,” Archbishop Garcia-Siller said. Franciscan Father Antonio Margil de Jesús (1657-1726) founded Mission San José in 1720. Archbishop Garcia-Siller spoke of Margil de Jesús’ goal to prepare Native American souls for the next world, and compared Margil’s religious journey to the undertaking of those individuals who aided in the World Heritage designation.
“(Margil de Jesús) shared the faith,” Archbishop García-Siller said. “He gave his life, and now, not only do we have a great experience of church, but also meaningful buildings for the nation.”
The four Missions and the Alamo were built as Catholic churches and as centers of conversion, and today, nearly 300 years later, they continue to serve as parish churches.
“Almost 300 years ago the same Mass was celebrated in this area,” Archbishop García-Siller said. “I can tell you the Gospel was the same, the Mass was the same.”
The Spanish missionaries, in an effort to convert the Native Americans to Catholicism, directed local Coahuiltecan tribe members to construct the stone enclaves and parishes. After secularization in 1824, the Missions stood devoid of worshippers until the Catholic Church once again assumed responsibility for the Missions in the early 20th century.
“At times the Missions seemed to be a failure,” Archbishop García-Siller said. “However, today the four remaining Missions are vibrant communities of faith and the four places are World Heritage sites. Small beginnings can lead to greatness.”
Interested community members can attend Mass at Mission San José Monday through Friday at 8 a.m., Saturday at 5:30 p.m., and Sundays at four different times: 7:30, 9, 10:30 a.m., and 12:30 p.m.
Father David Garcia, director of the Old Spanish Missions, thanked attendees for supporting the World Heritage designation.
“We’ve done this, now what else can we do?” Fr. Garcia asked rhetorically. “We know we can do a lot more.
He challenged the congregation to help welcome people to the Missions.
“One of the most important reasons that we have this designation, and the UNESCO people told us this, they said, ‘Yes, you have beautiful buildings, but there are a lot of other beautiful buildings in the world. Yes, you have old buildings, but there are a lot of older buildings in the world. But you know what you have, they said, that is so powerful? You have this outstanding universal value, which is people.’ The people of the Missions who have been here for hundreds of years and continue to be here,” Fr. Garcia said.
Church leaders and volunteers handed out conch shells to congregants as a symbol of their baptism. The image of a Mission was painted on each shell. Fr. Garcia asked congregants to wear the shell when they visit the Missions.
When the mass was coming to a close, Mardi Arce, superintendent of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, presented a plaque to Archbishop García-Siller and Fr. Garcia in recognition of the partnership between the National Park Service and the Archdiocese’s Old Spanish Missions organization.
“We are standing here as a testament that the federal government and the Catholic Church can be in partnership and never cross that fine line of separation of church and state that is so fundamental to this country,” Arce said.