Al Villanueva: Indian mission founder did not commit genocide

The Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad in Soledad, California, was part of the brutal system founded by Junipero Serra, who will be granted sainthood this year by the Catholic Church. Photo by Franz Liszt / Wikipedia

Al Villanueva, an elder from the Purepecha community in California, offers a different perspective on Junipero Serra, the founder of the Indian mission system who will be granted sainthood this by Pope Francis during a visit to the United States next week:
Ninety percent of the California Native population was wiped out between 1848 and 1865. My friend and California Native American spiritual leader, Tony Cerda, chief of the Carmel Mission Indian tribe of Costanoan Rumsen, on whom Father Junipero Serra’s designation of sainthood rests, was one of the lucky ones. His San Francisco Bay area indigenous ancestors survived the genocide by escaping to Southern California and settled in the Pomona Valley during the mid-19th century.

But the massacres and genocide of native peoples were not committed by Franciscan missionary priest Junipero Serra nor any Puritan, Congregational or Christian missionary who spread the Gospel to native peoples in the New World. This is a simple and irrefutable fact. In fact, it was the devout Christian priests, ministers and evangelizers who protected native peoples from the historic genocide, as Chief Cerda and other Christian Native American spiritual leaders like myself have declared.

But how do we contemplate, as First Nations peoples, the colonization and religious conversion with humility, with the knowledge that sin and error exist in all of us?

And may we contemplate them with hope, the hope that comes from the knowledge that the process of change, redemption and healing are possible in every moment.

With that knowledge of how we, our ancestors and the Catholic Church in the past as well as in the present are all bound together, our histories intertwined, we Native Americans humbly offer the idea that to honor Saint Junipero Serra is to recognize and acknowledge all that was destroyed as to honor all that was created. For one thing did not happen without the other.

Get the Story:
Al Villanueva: A Native American’s perspective on Father Serra’s canonization (The Inland Daily Bulletin 9/5)

Also Today:
California Native Americans protest canonization of father of missions, despite Pope's apology (AP 9/6)
Pope Francis’ Visit to U.S. Is His First Ever, for Several Reasons (The New York Times 9/6)

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