Peter d'Errico: A mistake with sainthood for Indian mission figure

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

Retired professor Peter d'Errico discusses the decision by Pope Francis to bestow sainthood upon Junipero Serra, the founder of the brutal Indian mission system in California:
As a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) profile of Serra puts it, "Junipero Serra was a driving force in the Spanish conquest and colonization of what is now the state of California." PBS points out that the Spanish missions were "intended both to Christianize the extensive Indian populations and to serve Spain's strategic interest by preventing Russian explorations and possible claims to North America's Pacific coast."

In short, Junipero Serra fits the classic model of a Christian missionary: hard at work to "save" the Indians, as well as their lands, from rival empires. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church was in conflict with the Russian Orthodox over the proper form of Christianity added to the rivalry of the empires.

Serra's efforts to "convert" Indians and maintain a Spanish presence in Indian lands completely fulfill the mandate of the doctrine of "Christian Discovery," promulgated by the Papacy in the 15th century in an effort to resolve competition between Portugal and Spain for Indian lands in the "New World."

The Papal Bull Inter Caetera (1493) supported Spanish claims of "discovery" with "the fullness of our apostolic power" to "give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered."

Get the Story:
Peter d'Errico: The Pope Makes a Mistake (Indian Country Today 2/6)

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