"They are still a haven of culture and history," he said. "We especially value that they continue as active parishes of the archdiocese, where hundreds of families on the city’s south side continue to gather for prayer within the original walls, which many dedicated persons have worked to preserve over the years."
Capping off a collaborative effort that began almost a decade ago, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed the Catholic Missions of San Antonio as a World Heritage Site. The announcement was made Sunday, July 5, 2015, at the World Heritage Summit in Bonn, Germany. The San Antonio Missions, which remain working Catholic parishes, are Texas’ first World Heritage Site and the 23rd in the United States.
The Spanish Missions "have helped to shape the face of San Antonio,"
The five Missions were built during a 65-year period, beginning with the Alamo—originally known as San Antonio de Valero. It was founded in 1718. San Jose was begun two years later, followed by Missions Concepción, San Juan, and Espada. All of the structures are located within an eight-mile stretch along the San Antonio River.
According to Father David H. Garcia, Director of the Old Spanish Missions for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, "No other place has so many Missions in one spot. We have the largest concentration of Spanish Colonial buildings in the United States." Garcia also serves as parish administrator of Mission Concepción.
The San Antonio Missions already draw about three million people each year, with most coming from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Officials expect that number to rise significantly because UNESCO World Heritage Sites tend to draw more global visitors, especially from Europe and Asia. A 2013 study conducted for Bexar County projected that a World Heritage Site designation for San Antonio’s Missions would generate $100 million in additional economic impact annually.
Father Garcia thinks the designation will also result in increased Mass attendance at the Missions. “People love to feel that and be able to touch that and be immersed in it." He added, “If those churches were just a pile of rocks, it would be a whole different experience walking around them. But the fact that those churches exist, and they’re so spectacularly built, everyone realizes that they are gems. These Missions are a gift from God.”