Friday, October 2, 2015

The Canonization/Demonization of Father Junipero Serra

Pope Francis, a Jesuit priest, canonized Father Junipero Serra, (1713-1784), a Franciscan priest, on September 23, 2015 in Washington, D.C. during the Papal visit to the United States. The demonization of Father Serra began before the announcement and continues afterwards. Critics deem him unworthy for allegedly enslaving the Native Americans and committing genocide against them while supporters view him as the founder of California. Farther Junipero Serra founded the Spanish Mission system in California. The Franciscan Priest from Majorca, Spain gave up a prestigious teaching position to become the missionary. He was sent to Alta California. He founded the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala on July 16, 1769, the first of the nine missions he established including Mission Delores in San Francisco in 1776. The 21 Spanish Missions were the birthplace of many great California cities. Spain dispatched the Conquistadors to explore, conquer, and occupy the Americas. Names like Cortez, Pizarro, De Soto, Balboa, Cabrillo, Coronado, Ponce de Leon, Portola ring throughout the history of California and the New World. The Padres accompanied the soldiers to convert the heathen to Catholicism and save their immortal souls. The soldiers and the priests worked together, but also separately. Father Serra often had to protect his converts from the soldiers. Conquering armies are not generally known for extending mercy to the conquered. A clash of civilizations resulted with the Spanish conquests in the Americas. European diseases from which the Americans had no immunity ravaged the native population. There is no evidence that the priests deliberately engaged in germ warfare against the native population unlike Lord Jeffrey Amherst who authorized the distribution of smallpox contaminated blankets to the Delaware Indians with tragic results to the Delawares and Shawnees. The deaths of the natives would have been even greater without the ameliorative protections of the priests. The converts were kept on the missions both to produce crops and to keep them from relapsing to their heathen way. Those who fled and were recaptured were severely flogged. Life on the missions was not paradise, but neither was life in the 1700’s. Mortality was high. Cries of slavery have been raised against Father Serra and the missionaries because of the forced labor. It is unquestioned that the converts were forcefully kept in the mission grounds. However, they were not bought and sold. The overwhelming Catholicism in Latin America is proof that the Missionaries succeeded in their mission. Let us not get too sanctimonious and forgetful in extolling the ancient cultures. The Aztecs and Mayan Empires engaged in widespread slavery while the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans practiced human sacrifices. Some modern critics of Father Serra tag him the word “genocide” because many of their ancestors perished with the Spanish conquests. Genocide denotes a conscious intent to exterminate a race, religion, or ethnic group, such as the Turks with the Armenians, the Nazis with the Jews, and the Serbs at Srebrenica with the Muslims. That was never the intent or goal of the Spanish or missionaries. Extreme brutality was exhibited by King Leopold in the Congo. Father Serra and his fellow missionaries sought to save the people. Their acts were more paternalistic than genocidal. A statue of Father Serra resides in the Capitol’s Statutory Hall, where each state places two of its heroes. A couple of California state legislators are seeking to replace Father Serra with the astronaut Sally Ride. They agreed to postpone the legislation until after the Pope’s return to Rome. Vandals struck on Saturday night the Carmel Mission where the Father is interred. They toppled a 6’ statue of him, damaged other statues, and painted graffiti on many places. The escapade could have come right out of Hollywood – the private security guard heard and saw nothing and the surveillance camera was inoperable. Instead of building upon and learning the lessons of the past, today’s institutions, especially education, are now teaching our youth divisiveness, envy, and hate. Many are incited to destroy both the past and present. Those who spend their life wallowing in the past cannot enjoy the present and are blind to the future. There are also those today who blame the past of hundreds of years and millennia for their present misfortunes.

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