ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Four hundred and fifty years ago, the Spanish spotted land, docked, and settled it, calling the area St. Augustine after the saint on whose day they spotted the land.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people took time off work and school to celebrate the huge milestone.
Action News Jax talked to some of the more than 700 people who packed the Cathedral Basilica for the anniversary. Tuesday was so important to Pope Francis that he sent his closest American bishop and chief advisor Cardinal Sean O'Malley.
When Pedro Menendez de Aviles and his crew of priests and soldiers landed on shore, Father Lopez presented him with a cross. He kissed it and claimed the land for Spain.
Before a crowd of hundreds of people braving the summer heat, that moment was relived 450 years later. Father Thomas Willis said the moment marked the beginning of Christianity in the new world.
"This reinvigorates the responsibility we have for evangelization," Willis said.
The reenactment was followed by a procession from the grounds of the Mission Nombre de Dios to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.
The pope sent Cardinal O'Malley of Boston as his representative on Tuesday. O'Malley celebrated mass before hundreds of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
For Diocese of St. Augustine Bishop Felipe Estevez, the cardinal's message was fitting.
"It was a wonderful connection of Mary opening to God and St. Augustine opening to the faith," Estevez said.
Outside, hundreds more faithful battled the heat to hear mass. Two of those parishioners were Angel Sanchez and his daughter. For them, the moment is one they'll never forget.
"It was beautiful, it was (a) wonderful moment that we got to celebrate what Catholic faith is all about out in the open with everybody," Angel Sanchez said.
"It's awesome to be here today. I'm glad I was here," said Kiara Sanchez.
We asked the bishop when the pope will visit St. Augustine, but the answer is no one knows. However, the bishop said he doesn't take for granted that the pontiff sent his closest American bishop to the celebration.
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