Last week I told a creation myth based on this Northern California mountain that comes to us from the Chochenyo Ohlone who lived here before the Spanish arrived. This is another story about the same mountain that was told to me when I was a child. Aside from the fact that both my mother and father knew the story, the exact source of it is unknown to me. I have not been able to find another example of this particular tale. My parents told this as non-Catholics with a twist of irony. In my re-telling here, I have endeavored to inhabit the point of view of a missionary who truly believed in the righteousness of his actions.
Back in the late 1700’s there was a Spanish missionary named Fr. Francisco Palou. He came to America with a burning desire to convert the godless Indians to the One True Church. He knew that it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t know the Salvation of Christ. He knew, too, that it was vital to do whatever was necessary to bring these poor people to God.
In the 1770s Francisco Palou traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area and established the mission of San Francisco de Asis. During his travels, he learned of a mountain that that was considered sacred to the Indians the area. It was place where the locals would go to worship and hold their terrible rites. Following the example of Elijah the Prophet, he decided to go up onto that mountain, praying and fasting, to set God against the false gods and destroy them.
Fr. Francisco Palou traveled to the mountain with a few Spanish military men. At the base of the mountain, he left the soldiers to climb alone. He hiked the mountain in a state of prayer, asking Jesus and the saints to keep him safe. He prayed for the souls of the Indians who did not yet know God’s grace. He prayed for those rebellious men and women who so detested the ways of righteousness that they continually ran away from the missions where he and his brothers tried to teach them the ways of God. He prayed for his own soul to be pure enough to do battle with the false gods.
At last, the friar reached the peak. The view was spectacular. He could see nearly 80 miles in all directions. He vowed in his heart to bring God and the Catholic Church to all of the men who lived in the lands that he could see from that point. He ached with the gravity of his responsibility. Then, he built a fire and settled in for the night. He would stay awake, despite his exhaustion, and continue to mortify his body praying so that his missions would be successful.
In the darkness of the night, under a massive sky full of stars, the priest held his vigil for the souls of the savages, and then the Adversary arrived. The Devil himself came to the place where fr. Francisco Palou was praying and laughed at the man who would challenge him on this mountain.
“You have no power here!” Lucifer told him. “You think that you bring God, but really you bring destruction.”
Though his heart raced, the priest was steadfast in his courage, “Be gone, you devil! Jesus has power over all! I am His servant, and your words do not frighten me.”
“Perhaps my words do not frighten you, but the future will terrify you,” The Devil said. He swiped his hand across the sky with a flourish and a vision opened up between the stars. Men came like locusts to the coasts and mountains of Alta California. They destroyed the forests and poisoned the lakes. They set up whore houses and casinos and engaged in every kind of sin. They killed each other with guns and knives, and yet they kept coming.
The vision was horrible. Though the Indians were sinners, they did nothing that could compare to the evil that fr. Francisco Palou saw that night. Rapes and murders. Greed and gambling. Unbelievable gluttony. Chaos and anarchy. The priest shook.
“No! This cannot be! You are the father of all lies. This is not the future. This is just a fiction that you have created to scare me from my vigil and break my prayers.”
“You are wrong, dear friar. This future that I show you is true. It is coming, and it is all your fault. They come because you came. They commit sins because you came here to stop sin. This is my world. Your work is pointless.”
“In the name of Christ I reject this vision. It is not true, and you have no power but that which God allows.”
“God certainly knows what I do. But I will make a deal with you. Do not come back here, ever again. Leave this mountain and I will hold the waves of locusts back. You will not have to see these terrible crimes in your life time. Go back to your mission at San Francisco de Asis. Pray to your God there. And we will not see each other again.”
The Eastern sky began to turn pink and the vision disappeared from the sky along with the Devil as a puff of smoke that rose to the heavens and floated off with the clouds. The friar returned to the base of the mountain in tears. The soldiers asked him what happened, but he would not speak of it. He went back to his mission and never went up on Mount Diablo again. The gold rush didn’t come until 60 years after the friar’s death.