For Catholics in California’s southland, the year 1981 was not only the bicentennial anniversary for El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, it was also, for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the “Year of the Archives.” It has long been recognized that responsible preservation of documents is absolutely essential for authentic history. For it to be above evasion or dispute, history must be grounded on documents, not on opinion or hearsay.
Fifty-eight years ago, this nation’s first Catholic President journeyed to the National Archives to participate in ceremonies opening the John Adams papers to researchers. On that occasion he pointedly observed that “there is little that is more important for an American citizen to know than the history and traditions” of the past. He went on to say:
Surely these observations apply in a very special way to the story of salvation. No less an historical skeptic than George Bancroft studied the roots of the human saga and he was forced to acknowledge that he found “the name of Jesus Christ written on the top of every page of modern history.”
This Archival Center is a measured response to the Church’s obligations to collect and preserve those documents and other records associated with the human activities comprising California’s Catholic heritage. The need for such a repository is clearly demonstrated in contemporary times when the quantity of knowledge is increasing so rapidly. It has been estimated, for example, that in the last century, the sum total of human knowledge doubled every fifty years. By the beginning of this century, the time it took to double that knowledge was down to twenty-five years. By mid-twentieth century, the doubling was occurring every fifteen years. At present, the storehouse of knowledge is doubling in less than ten years. Put another way, enough scholarly papers are being published every day to fill seven sets of a twenty-five-volume encyclopedia!
The Archival Center is envisioned as occupying a vital role in the on-going challenge of keeping the local Church abreast with modern demands and needs, some of which are not only new, but totally unprecedented in ecclesial annals.
The tragedy of Caiaphas and his associates resulted from their clinging to the past, their unwillingness to lay aside their privileged positions and to welcome a new day. They were blind to the signs of the times. That same tragedy, in painful though less significant ways, has been repeated at every period of transition in the history of religion. And it is being repeated today by those who fail to provide for the future by ignoring the past.
While there is much wrong with modern times, there is more that could be right if people would only take time to look at the record, make creative interpretations and then arrive at reasoned conclusions. This they can do most effectively by going to the documents.