Junipero Serra: Monster or Saint?

serraLOS ANGELES – The American Indian Movement Southern California is organizing a  prayer Easter Sunday for other California American Indians, Native organizations and allies to denounce Pope Francis’s decision to canonize Junipero Serra. The prayer will also pay respects to those buried in mass graves at each of the 21 Missions.

This has been a controversial issue because Junipero Serra represents diametrically opposed viewpoints: Monster or Saint? Serra directed and founded the Mission system that stretches from San Diego to Sonoma, California. These 21 Missions were comprised of a series of religious and military outposts, established to colonize and Christianize indigenous peoples.

However many California Indians feel that the Missions were akin to concentrations camps or as Professor of American Studies, David Stannard, states in his book American Holocaust, the Missions were known to be like “furnaces of death.”

“The irony does not go unnoticed that here the Pope now proposes to elevate Serra to sainthood and yet, many know him to be a monster who separated, butchered and maimed Native families – all in the name of Christ, military and progress,” notes Corine Fairbanks, with the American Indian Movement Southern California.

“We are all traumatized about the recent announcement that the Pope made about the canonization of Junipero Serra and are looking at ways in which we are not further invisibilized by the larger communities….the truth must be told. There is no time to waste,” Corrina Gould, Karkin and Chochenyo Ohlone.

Both California Indian Catholics and traditional Native peoples are speaking with one voice at this ceremony.

“In all of this, I want truth in history to be acknowledged. I can care less in that they succeed in giving this sinner sainthood, but truth in history – with the factual tellings of the atrocious crimes committed to the Indigenous nations need to be heard,” Kanyon Sayers-Rood, Ohlone/Chumash.

Carmel Mission (San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission) is the site for the Spiritual Gathering because of it being the burial site of Junipero Serra.  Carmel Mission was also noted to have been the headquarters for the entire Mission system.  Georgiana Sanchez, Barbareno Chumash / Tohono O’odham, Professor of Native American Literature, also related that a Spiritual Pilgrimage had been organized in 1987 which included stopping at each Mission to pray for the ancestors buried in mass graves at each site.

“Missions are essentially mass graveyards,” she said, and proceeded to say that their journey included demonstrating at Carmel Mission where Pope John II was visiting to honor Junipero Serra. “We were not treated very nicely, the padres were rude, called the police and kept us from praying for the ancestors there in back where the mass grave is.”

Elias Castillo, author, “A Cross of Thorns, The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions,” noted: “One visitor to Mission Carmel was shocked at the “fetid squalor” in which Indians were forced to live. A French admiral was appalled at what he saw there in 1786. “Bedraggled Indians, some in shackles and stocks, were being walked to a work site, accompanied by Indians guards who swung whips to ensure their staying together.”

California Indian people want this Pope to fully acknowledge the magnitude of Serra’s horrendous acts in the physical and cultural genocide in building the Mission empire. As noted by Georgiana Sanchez the pilgrimage of 1987, this was not the first time that Native Peoples had organized to come together to demand a meeting with Catholic officials at the Missions or within the church administration offices. To this requests have been denied or ignored.

“Twice in the last two years we sent the Holy Father letters describing what really happened in the missions. Included in the letters sent by Valentin Lopez, Chairperson of the Amah Mutsun Tribe, and myself, were letters by Bishop Francis Quinn, a highly revered bishop now retired in Sacramento, who made an apology in 2007 to the Native Americans from Mission San Rafael Arcangel for the treatment their ancestors received in the mission.

Each time we received a note from Angelo Becciu, Substitute for the Pope, saying that our concerns were noted and he would remember our intentions in his prayers. We also had meetings with various bishops in California, hoping to be invited to attend the annual Catholic Bishops Conference so we could talk about the need for healing to occur in regards to the missions. We were never invited to attend the meeting,” writes Donna Schindler M.D., psychiatrist at her website; .

“I hear Natives say how much they love this new pope and ‘how he’s like no other’.  I once felt the same.  Now my heart is broken. I had hoped that perhaps in this generation, in this time on earth, that there could be one person who could see the truth behind the lies. I’m not so sure anymore,” Amanda Julius, friend of the Mutsun Ohlone band out of Pajaro, Watsonville.

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