A Papal Trifecta: Part 1 -- Junipero Serra & The Pope
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Oct 02, 2015 at 11:20:03 AM EST
Franciscan Friar Who Brought Destruction and Death to California's Native Peoples Canonized by Pope

"I heard the mission bell, and I was thinking to myself, this could be Heaven or this could be Hell..." -Hotel California, The Eagles

During his July visit to Bolivia, Pope Francis "apologized for the `grave sins' of colonialism against the native people of the Americas," USA Today's Bill Theobald recently reported. "I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America," the pope said. Why then is Pope Francis canonizing Junípero Serra, the embodiment of crimes committed against native peoples in California?

Why is Pope Francis conferring sainthood on a man whose actions led to the destruction of native peoples in California? Sainthood for Serra, a man who founded missions where native peoples were imprisoned and tortured, and where thousands died? At the time of the announcement, it seemed that Pope Francis, who seems to be a man with a great yearning for social justice, might be unfamiliar with the complete Serra story?

In January, when Pope Francis announced plans to canonize Serra, it opened deep and old wounds. On Wednesday, however, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Serra, who the pope called an "evangelizer of the West," will become America's first Hispanic saint.

Serra the "evangelizer," was also an agent of colonialism, death and destruction.

Junípero Serra, a Franciscan friar who is seen as one of the founders of California, set in motion the establishment of a string of missions in the region starting in 1769 with the founding of one in Baja California. As San Francisco magazine's Gary Kamiya recently pointed out, "Every schoolchild knows that California Indians at Serra's missions were taught the Gospel, fed and clothed; few know that many were also whipped, imprisoned, and put in stocks." Serra's mission, "to convert pagan Indians into Catholic Spaniards resulted not only in the physical punishment of countless Indians, but in the death of tens of thousands of them - and, ultimately, in the eradication of their culture."

The missions were also designed to bring native peoples a new way of life "centered around farming and ranching," the San Francisco Chronicle's Carl Nolte recently wrote. Nolte pointed out that "By the end of Spanish and Mexican rule in 1846, [60-+ years after Serra's death] the native population was half what it had been when Serra first saw California."

Critics of Serra's sainthood abound: Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and whose ancestors were at Mission San Juan Batista, told Nolte that "the missions were hellholes," "They brought suffering, destruction, death and rape," to the natives.

"I felt betrayed," Louise Miranda Ramirez, tribal chairwoman of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, whose people occupied much of northern California before Serra's arrival, told Gary Kamiya. "The missions that Serra founded put our ancestors through things that none of us want to remember. I think that the children being locked into the missions, the whippings. ... That pain hasn't gone away."

Supporters of Serra's sainthood tell a different story. They see him as a man who gave up everything to dedicate his life to saving souls, regardless, it should be added, of whether or not they wanted to be saved.

It seems to me, a non-observant but definitely culturally identified Jew, that in his two-plus years as pope, Francis has become a man for all seasons. He's loosened things up a bit at the Vatican, has moved the church towards an openness that his predecessor assiduously avoided, and has tried to affect a lifestyle of a regular guy, that is, if a regular guy could be a pope. His support for the Iranian nuclear deal, his helping guide the way for a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, his critique of capitalism, his position on Climate Change, and statements like "who am I to judge" when talking about gays and lesbians, have put smiles on the faces of even the most skeptical of Vatican watchers and lapsed Catholics. We also understand that there will not be any doctrinal changes regarding abortion, same-sex marriage or allowing women to be priests. And we know that there hasn't been any significant move to punish priests and their leaders for the child sexual molestation scandal that has rocked the church over the past two decades.

All told, however, Pope Francis has been the best public relations man the Catholic Church has known in many years; distancing himself from divisive issues, while attempting to grow the church.  

Interestingly, in order for candidates to be considered for sainthood, they are normally required to perform two miracles. The record shows that Serra "healed" a St. Louis nun of lupus, but with no evidence of a second recorded miracle, Pope Francis decided to waive that requirement.

San Francisco magazine's Gary Kamiya asked the question that is on the minds of many: "Why did Pope Francis, the most progressive pope since John XXIII died in 1963, choose to canonize this deeply problematic figure?"

And, the National Catholic Reporter's Jamie Manson asks: "Why would Pope Francis, champion of the poor and suffering, demonstrate such a strong desire to canonize a man who, history strongly suggests, opened the floodgates to so much abuse and oppression?"

Steven Hackel, history professor at the University of California, Riverside, and author of a 2013 biography of Serra, said "There's no question that his goal was to radically alter Native culture, to have Indians not speak their Native languages, to practice Spanish culture, to transform Native belief patterns in ways that would make them much less Native. He really did want to eliminate many aspects of Native culture."

Hackel also put an interesting spin on the pope's decision making. "I think the issue is the treatment of immigrants in North America," Hackel said, referencing Spanish settlements in Florida, Texas and California. "I think their hope is that if Americans understand that they move toward a more sympathetic and embracing immigration policy," he said.

Jamie Manson writes that "Speaking to seminarians at the North American College in Rome in May, Francis praised Serra as `part of a missionary corps who `went out to all the geographical, social and existential peripheries' to spread the Gospel. "Such zeal excites us," Francis added.

In the late 18th century, it was the kind of unbridled "zeal" embodied by Serra, that was responsible for the death and destruction of California's native peoples.




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and Native America has been one of abuse, attempts to micromanage and exploit people, and outright slavery and murder.

Serra is only an example of the reality.  It was somewhat different in some parts of the Southeast, but not that different.  There are others who have been shown respect by the church but who really deserved the worst punishment.

My own people have long memories and a great many have a strong dislike of and fear of the RC church, not because of protestant ideology, but because when we were facing the Trail of Tears, the RC church did nothing to help those who tried to stay on the land (not only did nothing but made things worse).

As my wife (and others) put it: We were given three options during the Trail of Tears: (1) submit to white authority and be moved to Oklahoma (and usually loose everything you owned), (2) resist and be killed (or shot), or (3) join the church, accept second or third class status, and not make any trouble for white people and your presence would be tolerated (barely).  In many cases, people would not accept membership in any other church but their own as evidence of "joining the church" so the people who tried to remain on the land joined every church they could.  The RC church wouldn't allow the people to join unless they renounced the others or never tried to join them... and it put people between a rock and a hard place because they had to choose what group of whites they angered.  (State laws stripped us of even the right to exist and of all of our human rights - even freedom of religion was denied us, and those on the land lived at the will and tolerance of those around them.)

There was a fourth option that some families took - during the Trail of Tears they'd move to other states and tried to pass as white.  If they could move around enough and pass, they'd be thought of as white and not forced to take a second class (or worse) status.  My own N.A. ancestors did that, as well as my wife's (we both also found that we have Jewish ancestors among our white branches).  Those who descend from the ones taking the fourth option also deal with the issues of Passing As White that you'll find with those who have African Slave ancestors (which I also probably have but can't prove yet) who Passed As White.  The churches in general made things worse, because for generations it was a death sentence to be found out, and the people who would enforce it were the "fine upstanding Citizens" in those churches.  Since the Klan also hated Roman Catholics, membership in that church was no protection.

Most people don't know that the system connected to Serra also was involved in the selling and buying of slaves up into the 20th century - when the last group of Native Americans (from California) was sold. (Note: The Trail of Tears didn't officially end until 1980/81 when the law was removed, but the last train boxcar load of Muskogee was sent to Oklahoma just before WWI and individual families were put on the bus with one-way no-getting-off tickets until after WWII).  Most people also don't know that farming was already well known to the tribes... but that in some cases it was far less efficient than (for instance) fishing.  They didn't do anything in many cases, except strip people's tribes of their traditional homelands and then force people to work their own fields for the church.

The canonization of Serra is a slap in our face... and combined with the other despicable action by this "pope", really has turned me off to that church - to the level of dislike that existed before his election.


by ArchaeoBob on Fri Oct 02, 2015 at 01:34:26 PM EST

Thank you for good communication.
192.168.0.1

by Ivsedelo on Sun Sep 22, 2019 at 06:14:48 PM EST
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