This Wednesday, July 1, is the feast of Saint Juniper Serra.
Saint Juniper Serra was a Spanish Franciscan missionary, who went to California in mid-1700s to bring the message of Christ to the Native Americans living there. He was instrumental in the founding of many missions, which have grown into cities in California now. Many of the Native Americans were converted to the Catholic faith. Father Serra is seen by the Church as a model of evangelization, and he was canonized by Pope Francis in 1915.
You may be aware that statues of Saint Juniper Serra were torn down last week in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He has been accused by some of not only converting people to Christianity, but of also imposing the faith on the people. His accusers say that he was instrumental in the suppression of their heritage and native religion.
The Catholic Bishops of California responded to the destruction of the statues and to the accusations against Father Serra. They say that he was ahead of his time in his defense of the Native Americans against the Spanish conquerors and that he constantly advocated on their behalf. He was a man of his time, and it was considered so important to bring people to salvation in Christ that he may have used methods that would be considered coercive in our own time. From a modern perspective, he did use some coercive methods, but he was not using violence in any way.
The bishops acknowledged that the protests and upheavals of the past several weeks has created hope that the racial tensions and divisions of our nation can be faced and overcome, but that the attacks on Father Juniper Serra fail to take into account the real history in which he lived and the contributions he made to the welfare of the native peoples of California.