Leon Panetta speaks at Mission’s 300th birthday celebration

GJoe and PanettaThe Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, was the keynote speaker at the recent celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Junipero Serra on Nov. 24 at the Carmel Mission’s Orchard House, giving the audience a chance to hear about the influence the Carmel Mission has had on Panetta’s life, and also a chance for him “to get the hell out of Washington.”

Panetta’s speech focused on how the mission and the adjacent Junipero Serra School have influenced his life.

“What we celebrate in the life of Junipero Serra is a dream, the same dream…that brought my parents to this country… [the dream of] providing a better life for people,” Panetta said.

While growing up in this community, Panetta was influenced by “all the nuns that taught [him] the basic values…of always being truthful and of always recognizing that your integrity is the most important thing you can protect.”

Speakers included Consul General of Spain, Jorge Montealegre; Consul of Mexico, Blanca Zarazua; Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey, Richard Garcia; and most notably Panetta, who has—among other things—been a member of the Carmel Mission Parish, 17th Congressional District Representative, White House Chief of Staff, Director of the CIA and now the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Carmel Mission Pastor John Griffin said that the speakers would “reflect on Father Serra’s achievements and contributions and the important role the Carmel Mission has played in their own lives,” and so they did.

The Orchard House, which was acquired by the church a year ago in October, according to Reverend Griffin, is the oldest residential dwelling in California, built in 1774, 23 years before Carmel Mission.

This house had been owned privately since the 1930s and has rarely been seen by the public.

“I can’t believe how beautiful these buildings look,” said Bishop Garcia, after noting the many years they were overgrown and under-kept by the previous owners.

While many were celebrating, throughout the evening some anti-abortion protesters outside the venue held signs which said “Panetta Repent Abortion” to try to influence Panetta’s and ultimately President Barack Obama’s opinion on abortion.

On a wonderful celebratory night of Junipero Serra’s impact on the community, Panetta emphasized that “the greatest strength of this country doesn’t lie with our weapons…. None of that would be worth anything without the men and women in uniform who are willing…to put their lives on the line…to make sure that their children have a better and secure life…. That makes them heroes. That makes them patriots.”

The final point the audience came away with is that all Americans should try to make the future better for posterity, just as Junipero Serra envisioned when creating this community.

-Joe Sunde