by Fr. Tom Smith, OFM Conv.
August 12th through 16th, Fr. Tom Smith, OFM Conv., Director of Holy Cross Retreat Center in Mesilla Park, New Mexico, led a pilgrimage to the early Franciscan Missions around Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque.
Before moving to New Mexico, I used to think that the California missions were the oldest Franciscan foundations in the United States. Yet since then I have learned that Junipero Serra began the first mission in San Diego in 1769, whereas the “not so famous” friars in New Mexico began their work in 1540, and established the first permanent (and still active) mission at Ohkay Owingeh north of Santa Fe in 1598. This was nine years before the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, and 150 years before the California missions.
Fr. Giles Carie, OFM Conv., often talked about the missions and history of New Mexico and following his lead I have learned a good bit and visited a number of them as well. August 12-16th, I led a group of 10 people on a pilgrimage to pray and get a sense for the history and the current situation of some of these early missions. We traveled in three cars and explored Santa Fe, the area north to Taos, and around Albuquerque. In five days we visited 13 sites, starting with the first church dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, San Miguel Mission, and San Francisco Cathedral in Santa Fe. Then we heard a fascinating description of the first mission, San Miguel, in Ohkay Owingeh, where there is still a thriving parish in an Indian pueblo.
We were able to celebrate the Eucharist in the San Geronimo Mission in the Taos Pueblo, where the Pueblo Revolt began in 1680, causing the death of 21 friars as well as many others, the destruction of many churches, and the eviction of the Spanish settlers until 1692. We also celebrated the Eucharist on a hill overlooking Santa Fe at a memorial to those who died.
Near Albuquerque, we joined in the patronal feast of the Assumption at the small chapel in Mesita, still staffed by the OFM friars of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province. Here and at San José in Laguna we experienced the faith, music, and customs of the indigenous people who have kept the faith alive even through many years when priests were not present. The missions at San Agostín in Isleta (from where came those who established San Antonio Mission in Isleta del Sur at Mt. Carmel Parish in El Paso) and San Miguel in Socorro (which is being restored over a three-year period) are more evidence that the efforts of the early friars have brought forth vibrant parishes to serve the people of our time and for years to come.
In the evaluations, some people said they would have liked a little more time for quiet during the day, and yet they felt it was a very enriching experience. It is my plan to offer one or two more pilgrimages next year so that I may continue to draw on this rich tradition and help others locally and from around the country experience the rich Franciscan heritage in New Mexico.
Click on link below to view the entire itinerary and to view some photos of the pilgrimage.