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Empty seats were hard to come by at Mission Concepción’s Sunday morning Mass, which parishioners have been holding uninterrupted since the Mission was dedicated more than 200 years ago. The church remains largely unchanged, except for the presence of air conditioning and an electronic kiosk that accepts credit card donations.
Fr. David Garcia, who is now in his fifth year as Concepción’s pastor, greeted the congregation and spoke about the World Heritage designation’s meaning and significance.
“It’s great to be a World Heritage site. It’s great to have a lot of people coming here,” Garcia said. “But put that in the context of those who live here. Those who have had less for so many years. In the end, we can make life better for all, and not just for those (who) own the businesses that the tourists are going to come to.”
After Mass, Garcia spoke with the Rivard Report and elaborated further on the World Heritage designation and the importance that it has in caring for the community surrounding the Missions.
“These World Heritage sites are not just to increase tourism,” he said. “It should have a good economic impact and an uplifting for those who have been here all of their life – the residents of the Southside, who have been overlooked in the past.”
Growth has been stagnant, Garcia argued, because the same investment that has transformed other parts of the city hasn’t quite made it to the Southside yet.
“We’ve seen some development,” he said. “What can we do so that World Heritage can have a positive impact on (residents)? What we don’t want is a lot of gentrification where everyone’s property values go up and they start having to move out because they can’t pay taxes anymore.”
Garcia said he welcomes new people to the area, but stressed that the new growth the Southside goes through has to be done in conjunction with the long-time residents of the area.
Janie Barrera is the president and CEO of Liftfund, a local organization that finances small businesses. Like Garcia, she wants to ensure that long-time Southside residents and business owners benefit from new growth rather than suffer negative impacts or even being displaced by it.
“We have to help the people that have been here for a long time,” Barrera said. “The City of San Antonio has contracted with Liftfund to offer loans at 0% interest to small businesses that are around this area. We want to boost the businesses that are already here.”
Garcia said that he feels a special responsibility to helm a parish that has had church services for more than two centuries.
“Every Sunday that I’m here I just feel so blessed,” Garcia said. “It’s such a privilege to be here. I love the combination of people that come here. It’s people from the neighborhood, and it’s also people from far away.”
People drive from as far as Adkins, a small town near LaVernia, to partake in the worship at Concepción, Garcia explained. It bolsters the community spirit needed to ensure the survival of the Missions and the surrounding areas, he added.
“Everyone worships together and they’re part of a big community,” Garcia said. “I think that’s what the Missions help us do.”
Top Image: The front façade of Mission Concepción. Photo by Scott Ball.