Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

America's Catholic roots

It didn't start in 1607.

In grade school that was pounded into my head as the date of the first permanent English settlement in the United States. The date stuck, along with 1620 as the year the Pilgrims landed, but the qualifier "English" didn't. I basically forgot that the English weren't the first Europeans to take up residence on this continent.

Of course I knew that St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest continuously occupied city in what is now the United States, but I just didn't think about it. The Spanish established St. Augustine in 1565. Like Christopher Columbus earlier, they brought the Catholic Church with them.

We recently visited St. Augustine. In addition to being the site of the Fountain of Youth and the original Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, it has the oldest Catholic parish in the United States, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

Mass was first celebrated in the parish on Sept. 8, 1565, the Feast (then a Solemnity) of the Birth of Mary. The present church (pictured here) was started in 1793. Although rebuilt, renovated and added to over the years, the face and the walls of the coquina (a kind of limestone) edifice date back to the building's completion in 1796.

There was a time, which perhaps extended longer than enlightened people would like to believe, when the Catholic Church in the United States was viewed with suspicion as a "foreign" religion and its adherents somehow not quite real Americans. It is perhaps worth recalling on this feast day that the faith's roots on this continent run deep, planted long before the Pilgrims even sighted Plymouth Rock in the distance.

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