Franciscans today continue the work of Blessed Junípero Serra. From the California that he evangelized, later Franciscans have gone to take the message of the cross and the light of the Gospel to other lands: the Philippines, Peru, Russia and Kazakhstan, in addition to the Holy Land where Jesus lived and died. When these friars are commissioned, or sent on to the mission, they often receive a “mission cross” to signify that they are carrying the Gospel message that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that the world might be saved through him.
Blessed Junípero, too, had a missionary cross and it attracts our attention because it has not one crossbar but two. This is a special form of the cross known as the Cross of Caravaca, after a town in the Murcia region of Spain. Legend has it the original Caravaca cross belonged to the first Patriarch of Jerusalem when the city was re-conquered by the Christian forces of the First Crusade.
The cross was said to have been miraculously brought to Spain in 1232, saving the life of a captive Christian priest and then bringing about the conversion of the Muslim ruler there. It then became an object of a special devotion which later spread to the Americas.
When Blessed Junípero’s remains were exhumed in 1943, a replica of the Caravaca cross was found; it was in the form of a reliquary containing relics of Blessed Raymond Llull to whom Serra had a special devotion. Blessed Raymond was a Third Order or Secular Franciscan from Mallorca after whom the Lullian University in Palma was named. Blessed Junípero had taught there. Blessed Raymond had also been very interested in carrying the Gospel to new cultures and for this reason fostered the study of languages. The fact that the Caravaca cross was found in the tomb was the proof that the remains were in fact those of Blessed Junípero.