Pope Francis’ wish to canonize California missionary met with contempt from tribes
Pope Francis announced his desire to canonize Spanish friar Junipero Serra Thursday, which angered leaders of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe because of Serra’s history of abuse toward Native Americans during the missionary era of California.
By Nicole Hensley
Tribal leaders have condemned Pope Francis’ wish to canonize a 18th-century Spanish friar believed responsible for the destruction of indigenous people through his missionaries.
Hailed by historians as one of California’s founding fathers, Junipero Serra baptized thousands of Native Americans, promoting Catholicism throughout the coastal region.
But his work was anything but holy, argues Chief Anthony Morales of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe.
“There’s nothing saintly about the atrocities on our culture and our people,” Morales told KNBC-TV.
His string of nine missions in what is now known as California attracted whole villages seeking a steady food source. It was also associated with Spanish soldiers suspected of torturing and raping Indians.
“Our people were enslaved. They were beaten,” Morales Sainthood has been a long time coming after Pope John Paul II beatified Serra in 1988 for being a “shining example of Christian virtue and the missionary spirit.”
Pope Francis made his desire to canonize Serra known aboard a flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines Thursday while explaining why he canonized St. Joseph Vaz, a Sri Lankan missionary, according to Catholic News Service.
“Now in September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States. He was the evangelizer of the West in the United States,” Pope Francis said.
The decision took local Catholic leaders by surprise, and also fueled rumors of a visit extending beyond the East Coast in September.
The Vatican has yet to confirm any trips besides Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.
“I’m learning with Pope Francis, we should always be ready for a surprise,” Father Edward Benioff of the Los Angeles Archdiocese told KNBC-TV.
Despite historical concerns of abuse at Serra’s missionaries, Benioff supports Francis’ intentions.
“By canonizing a great missionary, he’s showing the whole church we’re all called to be missionaries,” Benioff said.
Serra’s beatification heralded protests at his Carmel gravesite and the Junipero Serra Museum in San Diego for rumors of harsh punishment, such as whipping while converting reluctant tribes, that have been passed down through generations.
The museum was defaced with slogans such as “Genocidal Maniac” and “Serra was a Baby Killer.”
Some historians have doubted the claims of abuse because of the lack of documentation, though it’s believed Serra wrote the following passage in 1780, according to a PBS biography:
“That spiritual fathers, the priests should be able to punish their sons, the Indians with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of (the Americas),” he wrote.
Serra died in 1784, but by the end of the missionary era in the 1830s, at least 60,000 of those Native Americans baptized had died of disease, according to the LA Times.
With News Wire Services