A statue of St. Junipero Serra stands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. That is, until last Friday, when protesters toppled the statue to the ground. The next day, a group of protesters tore down a statue of the saint in Los Angeles, and then defaced it with spray paint.
Over two centuries after his death, the Franciscan friar has become a controversial figure among activist groups. But the Catholic Bishops of California are speaking out to defend St. Serra, whose story they say has been inaccurately twisted in modern history.
“Such a saintly man who served the [Native Americans] of California with such heroic virtue, far beyond today. … It’s hard to understand motivation [for tearing down the statue]. Here, Junipero Serra defended [Native Americans] against the abuse of Spanish conationalists,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.
This one event is part of a much bigger problem, explains Archbishop Cordileone. “This latest discrediting of Junipero Serra is part of a very long litany of anti-Catholic bias and myths that has been circulating for centuries but very vehemently for the last fifty years. And it’s trying to rewrite history. If history is written correctly and honestly, it would show that the Church has been a champion of justice, of research, of science, in so many different ways.”
The Bishops of California issued a joint statement earlier this week on the matter. They said:
“The historical truth is that Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American communities. Serra was not simply a man of his times. In working with Native Americans, he was a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era. And if that is not enough to legitimate a public statue in the state that he did so much to create, then virtually every historical figure from our nation’s past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today’s standards.”
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