Archbishop Jose H. Gomez prays with members of the San Gabrielino Mission Indian tribe. Mission San Gabriel caught fire in the early morning hours of July 11, causing the roof and the most of the church's interior to burn. Second from left is tribal chief Anthony Morales. (John McCoy/Angelus)

UPDATE: Historic California Mission Church Heavily Damaged in Fire, Pastor Vows to Rebuild

Mission Founded in 1771 by Franciscan Missionary St Junipero Serra

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An early morning fire on July 11, 2020, broke out at the San Gabriel Mission Saturday, completely destroying the 249-year-old church’s roof, reported Pablo Kay in Angelus News.

The fire was reported around 4:30 a.m. and appears to have broken out in the rear of the church. Multiple fire departments responded and the fire was extinguished soon after.

Fire officials were assessing the extent of the damage Saturday morning. They have not said what may have caused the fire.

Resilience was the theme Sunday morning inside the mission’s Chapel of the Annunciation, where the mission’s pastor, Father John Molyneux, CMF, made a bold pledge to Archbishop José H. Gomez.

“You will be back to celebrate our 250th anniversary in a rebuilt church,” Father Molyneux promised the archbishop at the start of Mass.

Pictures from inside the church, which is designated as a California Historical Landmark,  showed charred planks from the collapsed roof that had fallen on the pews.

The inside of the San Gabriel Mission church after an early morning fire destroyed the 249-year-old church’s roof Saturday, July 11. (John McCoy/Angelus News)

The old church is currently being renovated in preparation for the 250th anniversary of the mission’s founding next year. Because of those renovations, the church’s historic paintings and artifacts were not in the church at the time of the fire, said Adrian Marquez Alarcon, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Alarcon noted that the church’s pews and walls had just undergone restoration work as part of the renovations.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was founded in 1771 by Franciscan missionary Fray Junipero Serra, the fourth mission in present-day California founded by the future saint.

Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez visited the mission around 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning to survey the damage and ask for prayers.

Archbishop José H. Gomez speaks to San Gabriel fire chief Steve Wallace while surveying fire damage at San Gabriel Mission July 11. (John McCoy/Angelus News)

“Woke up before dawn this morning to news that our beloved San Gabriel Mission, founded by St. Junípero Serra in 1771, was burning,” said the archbishop Saturday morning on Facebook.

“Thank God no one is hurt. I’m here to pray with the people. The roof is destroyed and there is much damage in the old church. St. Junípero, pray for this city, this state, and this country that you helped to found.”

Although Archbishop Gomez had visited the mission just after the fire was contained, he came back the next day to celebrate the Sunday Mass and to show solidarity with grieving parishioners.

In his homily, he sounded a hopeful tone.

“This fire changes nothing,” the archbishop said. “Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles, the place from which the Gospel still goes forth.”

Archbishop Gomez invoked the intercession and example of the mission’s founder, St. Junípero, a Spanish missionary who advocated for the rights of California’s native peoples, including the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, who built San Gabriel.

“St. Junípero and the first Franciscan missionaries answered the Lord’s call and sacrificed everything to bring his word to this land,” he said. “Now it is our turn to make sure his word is proclaimed to the next generation.”


The following is adapted from the archbishop’s homily:

The Lord is all mercy and love and tenderness toward us, and we know that he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, that he will turn our mourning into joy. We know this. We believe in his promises.

But right now, in this moment, we are sad for what we have lost.

In this long season of sickness and death since the coming of the coronavirus, this is one more trial, one more test. We ask the Lord to strengthen and increase our faith.

This destruction comes as we are getting ready to celebrate the 250th anniversary of this great mission. But this fire changes nothing. Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles, the place from which the Gospel still goes forth.

You trace your roots all the way back to the beginnings of the Christian faith in California, before the founding of the United States. In fact, you are one of the few Catholic communities in this continent that can claim to be founded by a saint.

Last night I was praying to your founder, St. Junípero Serra, and reflecting on his words and witness. He knew sufferings every day in his service to the Gospel, as you all know very well.

The first mission he founded, Mission San Diego de Alcalá, was burned to the ground in 1775, and a good friend and fellow missionary was killed there.

And I thought, what would St. Junípero tell us this morning? And I remembered his beautiful little prayerLet us bear every hardship for the love of You and the salvation of souls. In our trials, may we know that we are loved as Your own children.”

We are children of God and God will never abandon any of his children. Our hope is never in vain because our hope is always in the Lord.

Jesus Christ is not some figure from the distant past. He is alive! He is risen from the dead! And we can know his power in our lives. He speaks to us in here and now, just as he spoke to his apostles by the seashore, as we hear in the Gospel today.

So, we can’t give in to this sadness. We need to make this a moment for purification and renewal of our mission — renewal of Mission San Gabriel and renewal of the mission that is each one of our lives.

And we do this, by renewing and intensifying our love for Jesus and our devotion to his Word.

We are all familiar with the “parable of the sower” that Jesus tells us today. He is talking about his own mission. He is the sower who goes out to sow the seeds of his Word.

His Word is truth, his Word is life, and he wants to “plant” his Word in the “soil” of every human heart.

We ask for the grace to open our hearts to the Word that he wants to speak to us, especially the Word that he wants to speak to us in this devastating fire.

Jesus is calling us to greater love, to never settle for anything less than holiness, nothing less than the glory that is our destiny. More than that, our Lord today is calling us to mission.

St. Junípero and the first Franciscan missionaries answered the Lord’s call and sacrificed everything to bring his Word to this land.

Now it is our turn to make sure his Word is proclaimed to the next generation. We can’t harden our hearts or become distracted by the anxieties and temptations of the world.

The truth is that Jesus needs us right now, more than ever, to help accomplish his purposes in the world.

We need to see ourselves as people on a mission. As disciples who share in the Master’s mission. The Word we have received, this beautiful treasure, we are called to share.

So, let us go out as St. Junípero did and proclaim God’s love, his mercy, his tenderness. Let us go out and proclaim the sanctity and dignity of every human life, and God’s beautiful vision for our lives and our society.

St. Junípero would tell us today: “Siempre Adelante!” Always Forward, and don’t look back.

Let’s ask his intercession, right now. And let’s turn, as he did, every day, to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

May she help us to open our hearts to welcome Jesus, and to allow his Word to dwell more richly within us, and to produce beautiful fruits in our lives.

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