January 18, 2015 — Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, an Italian missionary to the American Southwest known as the "Padre on Horseback," was honored Jan. 10 at the Tumacacori National Historical Park in Arizona with a Kino Legacy Day.
The celebration of the priest — who founded 24 missions and was also known as an astronomer, builder, mapmaker, linguist and agriculturalist — marked the 325th anniversary of his arrival in Arizona.
Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, whose diocese covers the land that Fr. Kino crisscrossed and built his missions on while traveling more than 15,000 miles by horseback, celebrated the Mass outside the ruins of Mission San Jose de Tumacacori Church.
Bishop Kicanas told the crowd what it is to be a great missionary. "They teach Christ, they preach Christ, they lead to Christ. That was the purpose of Kino's whole life, to lead the native peoples to Christ. To teach them about a God who loved them dearly and who was there among them, always at their side."
Fr. Kino was born in 1645 in Segno, Italy, and was educated by Jesuits. As a young man, he fell seriously ill and prayed for God's grace and healing, calling on the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier as intercessor. When he recovered, he joined the Jesuits.
Bishop Gerald Kicanas walks with his crosier after celebrating Mass outside the mission at Tumacacori National Historical Park in Tumacacori, Ariz., Jan. 10. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
He yearned to do missionary work in China, but was sent to Mexico instead. He worked in Baja California for three years and spent the rest of his life in Pimeria Alta, what is now the northern part of Mexico's Sonora state and southern Arizona.
He first arrived in Tumacacori in January 1691, responding to an invitation of its O'odham people. Shortly after, there were four Kino missions in O'odham communities.
During the Kino Legacy Day, the park service set up displays of heritage horses, livestock and other items associated with the missionary priest who brought cattle, other livestock, European farming tools and seeds to the area so the missions would be self-sufficient.
Southern Arizona rancher Dean Fish said Fr. Kino's lasting impact on the area is significant. Cattle raised for beef remains a large part of the economy in Arizona's Santa Cruz County, Fish said.
"We're honored to be a part of that, to feed America a little bit and to be able to work and be a part of God's land," he said.
The Mexican Archdiocese of Hermosillo in Sonora, the Diocese of Tucson and the Italian Archdiocese of Trent, where Fr. Kino was born, have all been advocating for his canonization. The Vatican received the diocesan petition and documentation on Fr. Kino's life and work in 2006, but has yet to name him venerable, the next step in the sainthood process.
Another anniversary for Fr. Kino will be on May 21, when Arizona, Sonora, and Trentino, Italy, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Fr. Kino's skeletal remains in Magdalena de Kino, Mexico. To learn more about Fr. Kino, visit padrekino.com. [Source: Catholic News Service]