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Backlash Begins Following Serra Canonization Announcement

Uploaded: Jan 20, 2015
As expected, last week's announcement by Pope Francis that he intends to canonize the Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra later this year has drawn sharp reactions from supporters and detractors. Today's Letters to the Editor in the Mercury News lay out the divide: a reader in Sunnyvale points out that Serra was "loved and revered by the Native Americans at the missions" (true enough, if you believe certain historical accounts), while a man in San Carlos contends that "making Father Serra a saint is like giving a Nobel to Custer" (hyperbole, but worth consideration). A similar debate is happening in the pages of the LA Times.

So who's right? One of the Times's readers (a Serra supporter) makes the helpful suggestion that everyone read Stephen W. Hackel's recent biography of Serra, Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father. Fiction readers might prefer my 2013 novel, Father Junípero's Confessor, which paints a similar, albeit dramatized, portrait of Serra. Those who prefer to get their history from primary sources are welcome to read the original Serra biography, Francisco Palou's Life and Apostolic Labors of the Venerable Father Junipero Serra, Founder of the Franciscan Missions of California. The truly hard-core can read that one in Spanish.



While researching my novel, I read all of the primary sources, and I came away with the impression that Junípero was an earnest, well-meaning missionary. His ire, when aroused, was directed mostly at his own countrymen, not the natives (he was notoriously impatient with the bureaucrats running New Spain). As his detractors point out, he did hold natives captive at the mission sites after they were baptized, but this was not because of a predilection for genocide; rather, he worried that they would fall back into Satan's clutches if they were allowed to return to their villages. Seriously. That's what he believed.

An LA Times article about the Serra controversy quotes Loyola Marymount professor Thomas P. Rausch, who warns against judging "an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards." This seems like prudent advice--but far too even-handed for the opinion pages.
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Comments

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 22, 2015 at 12:41 pm

"...warns against judging "an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards."

Yeah, but Serra is being canonized in the 21st century, not the 17th.

If saints are created per the standards of the progressively less civilized past eras, then heaven could be hell for 21st century newcomers.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Green Pimpernal, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 22, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Do we have standards in the 21st Century? Serra was "doing his own thing, man." Be cool. I wonder why he feared "Satan." What did the Indians do that he regarded as evil.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Reader of History, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jan 22, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Serra was definitely not doing his own thing. He was working for the Spanish Inquisition. His job was to bring the word of the Church to the unbaptized who, if they did not then convert, were deemed evil and damned. Not a good place to be when you had only a stick and Serra's secular backers had guns.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by History Major, a resident of Community Center,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 8:10 am

I find it very hard to believe that a few, very few soldiers armed with swords and muskets, and wearing leather jackets, could subjugate thousands of people, who, by all accounts, were very good with bows and arrows. Regarding the crown, most of the money for the missions came from the Pious Fund, raised by believers in Spain. This charge of genocide is stupid. Why would anyone want to wipe out people they hoped to convert? And the fatal diseases that brought so much death were often STDs that hit people whose systems lacked immunity. Sound familiar? The real culprit was the Mexican government that secularized the missions and gave the land to its friends. That, too, should be familiar.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Christian not Catholic, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 8:20 am

Christians have an instruction from Jesus to "go into all the world and preach the gospel". Early Christians in the 1st and 2nd centuries faced great oppression for doing this and suffered as a result. Later Christians started doing this more aggressively and although their motives were often in the spirit of "enlightenment" their vocabulary was a lot more sinister sounding and their methods might be a lot more cruel than 21st century people would agree with.

History has to be read and understood in the context of what were norms in the time they happened. To Serra and his fellow Christians of the time, anyone who wasn't Christian, were of the devil and oftentimes needed more than carrots to convert. Nowadays we are shocked and critical of such behavior.

Methods and motivation have changed considerably. But Christians all over the world still take the message of "go into all the world and preach the gospel" as seriously today as they have always done. There are Christian missionary organizations all over the world doing good work, and the preaching is much more humanitarian with practical teachings and support. The message of the is looked on as one of assistance and the teaching to those who are interested in finding out more.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 8:55 am

I guess the Catholic Church can do what it wants and I do view this new Pope favorably.
This man Francis could really make a difference in the world and may have already started
if he has not already been put in his place by the Conservative Catholic Mullahs. ;-)

But that is in comparison to history and historic Catholicism.

The problem for me, as a secular being is that religions are great, except that the mindset
they engender in things like this is that somehow some people associated with the Church
are closer to God that other people ... non-Catholics, which is the seed of some ugly fruit
by God. A Church should be like a banana, a nice nutritional food with no nasty seeds
that spring into something you might not want. ;-)

If Father Junipero Serra was "loved and revered by the Native Americans at the missions"
or someone would tell us so, that was in the context of one of the world's greatest genocidal
rip-offs. I don't want to beat the United States up because this was the way of the world
at the time, but honestly ... a real miracle worthy of sainthood would have been to actually
have gotten done something against that wave of history, which of course no one could.

Also, it is my uncertain understanding of Sainthood that a Saint must have performed a
miracle or two ... and honestly what are we, primitives from the dawn of time? There are
no miracles - ever. God is not magic, the laws of physics are not arbitrated by human
delusions or desire, they are inviolable.

How long is the Catholic church going to keep up this pretense?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:12 am

"I find it very hard to believe that a few, very few soldiers armed with swords and muskets, and wearing leather jackets, could subjugate thousands of people, who, by all accounts, were very good with bows and arrows."

Never mind what you believe; the fact is that it happened.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by history major, a resident of Community Center,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:50 am

"Never mind what you believe; the fact is that it happened."
Yes. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Why and how did it happen? Not by gunfire. There weren't that many guns. Too many people are trying to make this colonization the same as the English in Ireland. Most of the natives in the missions came of their own accord.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 2:05 pm

"Most of the natives in the missions came of their own accord."

And the others?

"I find it very hard to believe that a few, very few soldiers armed with swords and muskets, and wearing leather jackets, could subjugate thousands of people, who, by all accounts, were very good with bows and arrows."

Belief has nothing on facts. Find a history book and read how Cortes and a few hundred armed Spaniards did just that. Moreover, the Aztec empire they subjugated had not just thousands of people, but an army of thousands who were very, very good with bows and arrows, knives, and spears.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 2:29 pm

The colonizing system that worked out or evolved was this:

1 - "Discover" a place, scout out the riches and defensible positions.
2 - Claim the land under whatever legal/imperial structure you have.
3 - Take the land away from those who live there forcing them to pay
rent or tribute or move to areas where they cannot survive.
4 - When they realize they cannot survive and come back, greet them with religion and superficial kindness.
5 - Force them to work for their survival or die.

That was pretty much the system. Since lone native Americans
or foreigners of any kind were fair game for just about anything
it's no surprise they ended up at the missions as one of the few
safe places after an area was taken over.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Green Pimpernal, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Crum: How and when did the Aztecs get to California? The point history major made was that military power wasn't sufficient to bring the natives to the missions. I think he's right. The missions had a handful of soldiers and most were a pretty bad lot. There were more problems with the soldiers than with the Indians.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Andy, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Jan 25, 2015 at 9:35 pm

I think one has to be careful when talking about Serra's or any other religious persons actions as "well meaning". I can guarantee you that the Christian missionaries you meet today are well-meaning, so are the Mormon ones, so are the Scientologists you see in the malls, and if your child woke up in some other part of the world, the Muslim, or Jewish, or Hindu family who might step in to care for him would be completely well meaning in teaching him that his original Christian beliefs, while well-intentioned, are wrong and they will teach him the truth.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by No whitewashing please, a resident of Ventura,
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:15 am

Loyola Marymount professor Thomas P. Rausch, warns against judging "an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards."
Nonsense. Torture should be universally condemned, not excused because it was the fashion. If it were your people being killed or tortured, starved, or gassed, you would know that to the victims it's the same fear and horror.
Not interested in whitewashing bloody evil deeds by anyone, no matter the century or the excuse.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:41 pm

>> Loyola Marymount professor Thomas P. Rausch, warns against judging "an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards."

Ooooops, sorry, I mistakenly "liked" this comment before I realized it was supposed to mean the opposite of what it said in that opening salvo.

I am really perplexed by the commenters ( and I do not mean the previous poster ) who comment on the net, papers and on talk radio and in discussion groups always bringing up terrible history of Christianity from hundreds of years ago, or try to distort the point with bizarre comments like the fascists leaders from WWII were Christian leaders or somehow speaking for or connected with Christianity or some worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

All this is in reaction to trying to limit the influence of false religious terrorist groups cutting the heads off innocent civilians from all over the world to terrorize their way to power ... undemocratically.

Let's see --- beheading of innocent people --- versus --- controlled aggressive interrogation of suspects?? Isn't there really a way to fairly compare these two events without bringing up the Inquisition or the Crusades? Yes, I know in the controlled interrogation some of those have turned out to be not guilty ... but that is different from not even trying and going purposefully after innocent people.

I am not so sure I want to support "enhanced interrogation" but I am very sure I do not want to have any discussion about it that equates it irrationally with historic events from hundreds of years ago and not in the context of what is happening in the world today.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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