Pope Francis and the Vatican have confirmed that Friar Junípero Serra, a controversial figure in the history of Christianity, will be officially canonized as a saint. The Pope will personally travel to Washington to preside over his canonization mass.
Friar Junipero Serra was an 18th century Franciscan who was responsible for spearheading the spread of Christianity in California. However, he has been accused by Native American groups of colonial crimes. Denying the accusations of a strategically orchestrated genocide, the Vatican had announced, “He was a man of his time” and appears quite serious about his sainthood.
The formal decision was taken by Pope Francis in a Tuesday meeting with the head of the Vatican’s saint-making department, Cardinal Angelo Amato. Notwithstanding the rising discontent and resistance against the canonization of Junípero Serra, the Spanish missionary priest will be bestowed with the title of a saint, personally by Pope Francis during his upcoming American tour.
Speaking at a U.S. seminary in Rome, the pontiff had only the best of praises for Serra. The Pope hailed Serra as “a tireless missionary,” and as “one of the founding fathers of the United States,” as well as a “special patron of the Hispanic people of the country.” He went on to add that Serra, a Friar then, “had defended the indigenous peoples against abuses by the colonizers.”
However, not all have such a high opinion on the soon-to-be saint. Native American activists have always considered him an accomplice in the brutalities committed by Spanish invaders. In his role as a Franciscan friar, Serra has been considered as a Holy See who worked to bring Christianity to the colony known as “New Spain”.
However, the Native Americans blame Serra for overseeing one of the most brutal missions systems in the history of Christianity. The system practiced by the friar eventually caused the death of tens of thousands of Native Americans, allege the activists, who held protests against the planned canonization on Saturday, outside the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Speaking about the event, Citlalli Anahuac, a member of the organization, said,
“To canonize Junipero Serra is to canonize the genocide against us, as indigenous people. His job was to kill the indigenous people, who we were as a people, and instead revive us as Christians.”
Steven W. Hackel, professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, and author of Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father, added,
“Serra led an aggressive campaign to secure mission territory for his fellow Franciscans.”
Since the canonization has the backing of Pope Francis, it is nearly certain Friar Junipero Serra will be granted sainthood.
[Image Credit | Catholic News Agency]