With the recent news about Islam and terror attacks there has been a lot of negative sentiment surrounding the actions of extremists that are in no way a representation of their faith as a whole. People say the Quran teaches violence and terror. That it teaches misogyny and death. These things are just not true.
Recently I took a trip to the missions here in San Antonio and I had to face something that is uncomfortable for many Catholics. Our history of violence, terror and misogyny. The Missions were witness to the mistreatment of native inhabitants, the systematic removal of indigenous practice and people. They witnessed terror and horror all in the name of a loving and accepting God.
As I sat in the church of Mission San Jose all I could think about were how many people sat here against their will. How many were ripped from their families and friends? How many were beaten, tortured and mistreated in the name of God?
It was really incredibly jarring and most don’t think of it when we go to Mass.
My friend and I toured the missions and while we were at Mission San Jose we met an incredibly kind Franciscan monk selling fused glass. He was kind and bubbly, he offered blessings with his dip into capitalism as he sold the crosses and fixtures he made himself with his own blessed hands. He commented on how nice it was that he got to continue to lead mass in this historic church just like the first monks that arrived here in this state and colonized this place in the name of St. Anthony.
But his order, the church’s will, his ancestors and brothers in the same cloth…they’re all a part of the same mixed legacy of misinformation and cultural destruction. At the time, I could barely comment. It was my friend, who was a historian and was visiting these historic structures with me, that reminded me that this excessive guilt is its own form of toxic thinking. It’s infantilization and it was removing the agency of those who did willingly convert. There are also several concessions the Catholic Church has made in blending the practices and traditions of many other peoples and belief systems. Many of our most treasured rituals are pagan or as assimilated from other cultures like Our Lady of Guadalupe or Dia de los Muertos. Many of our most beloved Catholic rituals stem from pagan practice.
I’ll never forget sitting in that church. Feeling conflicted. Feeling awestruck. Feeling so close and yet so far from my Catholic heritage. I’ll certainly visit the missions again. They’re down the street. And if you’re ever in San Antonio or just haven’t been in a while, there’s no time like the present to check out the missions. They’re a vital part in our state’s history and our nation’s history.