Torivio Fodder: Pope Francis ignores sins of Indian mission era

History collides at the Carmel Mission in California, where Juniperro Serra is buried. Photo from Walk for the Ancestors / Facebook

Junipero Serra, the founder of the brutal Indian mission system in California, was far from a saint despite being recognized by Pope Francis, Torivio A. Fodder of the High Plains American Indian Research Institute at the University of Wyoming observes:
To be sure, the mission system in California was among the most brutal of the era. By the time the Spanish colonial effort in California was over, the population of American Indians in that eventual state would be reduced by 2/3s. All of which suggests that Serra’s tactics in the California mission system were much less about the conversion to religion, and much more about the imposition of religion under the efficiency of the Spanish sword.

For their part, American Indians have fallen in lock-step opposition to Serra’s canonization by Pope Francis. Even so, it’s unclear whether their efforts even reached the Vicar of Christ. The lone reference that Pope Francis made to American Indians in his remarks was a fleeting mention at best:

"Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our 'neighbors' and everything around us."

In other words, true the years were turbulent. True the forced displacement of American Indians, and the ensuing theft of their lands was tragic and unethical. But we cannot make appraisals of St. Serra's actions given the benefit of hindsight.

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Torivio A. Fodder: The Many Sins of Pope Francis's Saints (Indian Country Today 10/6)

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