Readers React

With time and study, Father Serra's image improves

To the editor: In the mid-1970s, I went with my very devoted Catholic friend on several trips across California to see the missions that Father Junipero Serra established. It was surprising for me to see my good friend so intensely fascinated by Serra. ("Often criticized, Serra gets a reappraisal from historians," March 17)

To my non-Catholic mind, Serra was a man so in love with his religion and his way of life that he wanted to bring them to the Indians and others, helping them to significantly improve their lives. Thus, in his heart he probably felt that his work was for the benefit of the native Californians.

I can understand the hatred that archaeologist Ruben Mendoza once felt for Serra, but as historian Robert M. Senkewicz stated in the article, Serra helped to set California on a path of agricultural and economic growth that endures today. Nobody is perfect, but Pope Francis' decision to elevate Serra to sainthood is a wise one.

Thanks to the work of Mendoza and others, we can now view Serra in a much better and more accurate historical light.

John Pawson, Huntington Beach


To the editor: It's great that Mendoza had an epiphany about Serra while excavating old mission ruins.

But what needs to be heard are the articulate voices of native Californians who are descendants of those who survived the mission period. Their stories need to be told, and they want to tell them.

Mark R. Day, Vista, Calif.


To the editor: Amid all the controversy over Serra and the missions, permit me to point out that the low point and destruction of the California Indians was not under Spain and its missions, but under American rule after an immoral and unjust war of aggression and expansion.

Stafford Poole, Los Angeles

The writer, a Roman Catholic priest and historian, is the author of 17 books on the history of colonial Mexico.


To the editor: If we're going to reappraise Serra, then let's consider his original sins.

First, he thought that his belief system was superior to the one that indigenous Californians had evolved for themselves over millenniums. Second, he didn't just try to persuade indigenous people that his belief system was better; he forced it on them at the cost of their culture and often their lives.

These sins were as inexcusable in Serra's time as they are today.

Kay Gilbert, Manhattan Beach

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