Saint Junipero Serra - a halo stained with blood?

Fri Sep 18, 2015 6:16am EDT
 
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Was he a saint or a sinner, an evangelizer or an enslaver?

Next week in Washington, Pope Francis will preside over one of the most controversial acts of his papacy. He will confer sainthood on the 18th century Spanish missionary Friar Junipero Serra, and in doing so, dive into a cultural battle in the United States.

Serra founded nine of the 21 missions in California that later were the basis of what is now the modern state. He is a household name in California, where streets and buildings bear his name and children study his legacy in schools.

Critics say that legacy has more darkness than light, that his halo is stained with blood.

Many Native Americans were appalled when the pope announced the canonization in January, calling Serra a great evangelizer. The late Pope John Paul beatified Serra in 1988 and Francis waived Church rules that normally require a second miracle between beatification and sainthood.

Detractors say Serra, who arrived from Mexico in what is now San Diego in 1769, beat and imprisoned Native Americans in the closed communities known as missions. They say he suppressed their cultures and facilitated the spread of diseases that heavily reduced the population.

But last May, the pope praised Serra's missionary zeal and said he had "defended the indigenous peoples against abuses by the colonizers".

"He was one of the founding fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the Church's universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country," the Argentine-born pope said.   Continued...

 
A holy card with the image of Friar Junipero Serra is shown at Mission San Diego de Alcala in San Diego, California, September 14, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake