Sainthood for founder of brutal California Indian mission system

A statue of Junipero Serra with an Indian boy. Photo by Anatoly Terentiev / Wikipedia

Pope Francis will be visiting the U.S. later this year to bestow sainthood upon Junipero Serra, the founder of the Indian mission system in California.

Serra started the first nine of 21 missions where tribal members were relocated, converted to Catholicism and put to work. His canonization has stirred strong feelings among the descendants of the survivors.

“Serra did not just bring us Christianity. He imposed it, giving us no choice in the matter. He did incalculable damage to a whole culture,” professor Deborah A. Miranda told The New York Times.

Serro's legacy is taught in public schools throughout the state but the negative aspects -- residents weren't allowed to leave and many died of disease by being forced to live in close quarters -- are often ignored. The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center runs a website to help keep students informed.

“If he is elevated to sainthood, then he should be held responsible for the brutal and deadly treatment of native people," Nicole Lim, the center's executive director, told The New York Times.

Typically, a candidate for sainthood must have performed two miracles. Pope Francis waived the second miracle because he said Serra's efforts to spread Catholicism through the Indian mission system and other means qualified.

Pope Francis will visit New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., in September. He will conduct the canonization during the trip but will not be traveling to California for it.

Get the Story:
To Some in California, Founder of Church Missions Is Far From Saint (The New York Times 1/22)
Holy contoversy (The Ventura County Reporter 1/22)
Serra's sainthood won't be conferred in California (The Orange County Register 1/21)

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Steven Newcomb: Church set to sanctify legacy of domination (1/19)

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