Missions and Missiles


Alan wanted me to name this post War and Peace, but I thought Missions and Missiles worked better. We headed South out of Tucson towards Mexico for a day trip. We stopped first at the San Xavier del Bac Mission which was built in 1783. It was really beautiful. Today it is an active Catholic Church mostly serving the local AkimelO’odham indians. The mission church is actually located on the reservation lands.
There was a life-size figure of Saint Francis Xavier in repose in the church. He was covered in a cloth which had holy metals and photos pinned to it. Interestingly, there was also a couple of bingo cards left there which I thought were either left asking for the Saint to intervene in some one’s game or as thanks for a jackpot.

I had never seen it before, but there was also small metals in the shapes of limbs or other body parts pinned to the Saint’s covering. I have read that these are called “milagros” and represent images of healed body parts.
I found the whole experience a bit disconcerting though since you had tourists taking photos who were there just to see an old building side by side with others who were there to pray in the church. It seemed that some may not have been in a church before. I was surprised that there weren’t any signs giving some indication to someone who wasn’t familiar with a church how they should behave.
As I waited in line to see the statue which you could touch, there was an older Hispanic- or Indian-looking couple who were clearly there for significant religious reasons. They lit several candles, rubbed a picture over the Saint, and left a donation. A young pre-teen girl started to dart past me to get to the statue while these people were praying. I reached out to stop her, which I’m not sure her mother appreciated (I didn’t look behind me), but I thought it was the right thing to do.
While many of you who are reading this know that I am not an actively practicing catholic, I did find the church very comforting. This may sound a bit corny, but maybe having been occupied for such a long time has left the Mission church with a strong spiritual presence. I lit a candle and said a prayer for my grandparents who I know are always looking over us when we are on the road with the trailer.
Now on to Missiles.

If you travel further South, you can visit the only Titan Missile Silo that still has a missile (of course without it’s nuclear warhead – they actually have a missile that was used for training so that it had never been fueled). The Titan program was deactivated in the late 80’s after more than 20 years in operation, but the military let this one Silo be turned into a Museum.
We took a one-hour tour that started on the surface where you could see the big hatch and then you went down the stairs (just like the crew would have done) through the blast doors and into the control room. The whole thing was pretty cool for us engineer-types.

The tour guy explained a lot of the procedures they followed and how in almost all parts of the Silo you could never be alone. There always had to be two people – watching each other. I got to sit at the control panel and turn the key that would have started the launch – if it had ever come to that. A lot of the technology looked incredibly out-of-date compared to what we have today.
The only thing that they make a big deal about still being classified is the missile targets. The missile would have be pre-targeted to one of three locations. The crew didn’t even know the targets.

If you are ever down this way, I would highly recommend this Museum. If we come back to Arizona after the first of the year like we are talking about to spend more time in Tucson, we may sign up for one of the other longer tours that take you further into the workings of the Silo. You can also reserve the Silo for an overnight stay – how does that sound for a family vacation, Mom C? We’re there!

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