The Controversy of Junípero Serra.


Pope Francis’ visit to the US has been all over US news lately – so far Papa Frank has visited President Obama in the Oval House, he’s taken lunch with people experiencing homelessness in DC, and he’s spoken to Congress. At one point yesterday, when Pope Francis was waving to crowds in the capital, a young girl by the name of Sophia Cruz broke through the barriers to share a letter about her fear that her undocumented parents will be deported and asked that the Pope address the issue of immigration reform to Congress.

But one thing that has gained a lot of controversy is the fact that Pope Francis has canonized the late 18th Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra, who is known as the architect of the California mission system, which violently converted tens of thousands of the native population to Christianity and (directly and indirectly) killed even more. Many people have been decrying the decision to and ultimate act of canonizing Serra because of the brutal nature in which he treated the native population of California during his time there.

I’ve written before about how it’s impossible to expect people to be perfect all of the time and saints are far from exempt from that. But, as Ijeoma Oluo points out in a tweet, there is such a big difference between making mistakes and actively participating in the genocide of native people and culture (which Serra actually did).

This is the first time I’m personally hearing of Serra himself but the story behind the man (now saint) and the missions he started is an unfortunately familiar tale in US history. Dara Lind wrote about how Serra was a brutal colonialist and how his mission was one of conversion and assimilation of the Native population to Catholicism and European culture. The Trail of Tears is another example of the violent ways in which Europeans (and later the US government) treated many of the native populations.

Ultimately I think that the outcries over the canonization of Father Junípero Serra was justified because of the violent colonialism and forced conversion that occupied much Serra’s life in California.