Following His death, Christ rose from the dead three days later and remained on Earth for forty days before He ascended to sit at the right side of the Father. During those forty days, He met with the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee and instructed them to baptize all nations and spread the Faith. Since the Great Commission given by Christ to go and convert the whole world, missionaries have traveled to every corner of the Earth to spread the Gospel. One such corner of the Earth is the Golden State of California.
“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'” – Matthew 28:16-20 (The Great Commission)
Between 1769 and 1823, Franciscan missionaries, most notably Saint Junipero Serra, established and operated 21 missions in California to minister to and serve the Native Americans. The first objective after the construction of each was to become self sufficient in order to support the mission and the local population they served.
To do this in a short order, the missionaries introduced livestock, fruits, and vegetables they brought with them from Europe and established industry. They introduced olive trees and olive oil production, citrus groves, and planted wine grape stock for the production of wine. A majority of California’s agricultural industry and staples can traced its roots back to the original plants brought over by the Franciscan missionaries.
The effect of the infrastructure they created cannot be understated; the missions created the seeds that eventually grew into today’s major cities like San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Juan Capistrano, and more.
It would be no far stretch to say the Catholic missionaries “founded” what we know today as California. Today the missions are among the state’s oldest structures and most-visited historic monuments; many of them also remain in operation as Catholic churches. When one travels along route I-101 in California today, they track the El Camino Real, The King’s Highway, a road created to connect all 21 missions in California. Each mission was created to be about a days journey from each other in both directions (a distance of about 30 miles). Today one can travel along the highway and see most of the original 21 missions. Due to earthquakes and neglect, only adobe remnants remain of some of the missions while others exist as replicas of the original missions.
The founding of the 21 missions shows the profound and lasting impact that Catholic missionaries can have on society. In today’s world, missionaries continue to go wherever the Lord calls them to bring whatever assistance they can to the locals (regardless of faith) and to help spread the love of Jesus Christ for all people.