Pope Francis to bestow sainthood on founder of Indian missions

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

Huge crowds are expected in the nation's capital as Pope Francis makes his first visit to the United States this month but some tribal leaders from California won't be among those cheering.

Francis, who is from Argentina, will spend two days in Washington, D.C., On Wednesday, September 23, he will grant sainthood on Junipero Serra, who was the founder of the brutal Indian mission system in California.

Serra and the Catholic Church set up 21 missions across the state between 1769 and 1833. Tribal members were sent to live there, sometimes under forced conditions, and many were forced to work as indentured servants in an attempt to convert them into Christians.

“I hear people saying, ‘Oh, he loved the Indians.’ I don’t think so," Chairwoman Louise Miranda Ramirez of the Ohlone Costanoan-Esselen Nation told Public Radio International of Junipero Serra. "His goal was to remove our culture. You have to beat ‘em, torture ‘em, remove them from their homeland.”

Valentin Lopez, right, attended the Mass of Reconciliation at Mission San Juan Batista in 2012. Photo from Amah Mutsun Band

Chairman Valentin Lopez of the Amah Mutsun Band has been encouraging Pope Francis to reverse the decision to grant sainthood. He said 100,000 to 150,000 California Indians died during the mission era.

"Serra’s especially coercive and cruel methods in California are not a sound basis for sainthood," Lopez said in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown (D). "Nor are his methods worthy of secular state pride."

During a speech in Bolivia in July, Pope Francis issued a general apology to indigenous peoples for the "sins" of the Catholic Church. He did not specifically mention the mission system in California but asked forgiveness "for crimes committed against the Native peoples during the so-called conquest of America."

The canonization mass for Junipero Serra takes place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It will be the first sainthood ceremony to occur on U.S. soil.

Get the Story:
Why Junipero Serra's Sainthood Is a Slap in Face of Native Americans (Uprising Radio 9/9)
Is America’s new saint more of a sinner? (Public Radio International 9/8)
Local tribe reinforces opposition to Serra sainthood (The Hollister Free Lance News 9/8)

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