Readers React: Pro and con for Father Junipero Serra’s sainthood
To the editor: It’s gratifying to read about the anticipated elevation of Father Junipero Serra to sainthood by Pope Francis. Hopefully, this will put to rest decades of debate over Serra’s establishment of Christian communities throughout California. (“Decision to canonize Father Junipero Serra draws divided reaction,” Jan. 16)
As Thomas P. Rausch, a professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University, aptly stated, “It’s a debate that evaluates an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards.”
Given the historical record of Serra’s accomplishments as well as his advocacy on behalf of native people, let us be open to all aspects of the historical record. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
Tom Kaminski, Pasadena
To the editor: Having lived at three California missions during the 1960s as a Franciscan seminarian, I have second thoughts about Serra’s canonization. When we gave tours of the missions, we told visitors how the natives benefited from being “Christianized and civilized.”
In reality, the missions were slave encampments where the Indians practiced forced labor, had to renounce their own cultures and religious practices, and died from white men’s diseases.
While it is true, as the Rev. John Vaughn says, that everyone has faults, it was not Serra’s shortcomings, but the whole project that was deeply flawed. Although Serra may have had good intentions, he was no saint.
Mark R. Day, Vista, Calif.
To the editor: Before passing judgment on Serra’s canonization, I suggest that you read “Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father” by historian Steven W. Hackel.
Put yourself in the mind set of the Catholic religion in the 1700s. Serra was brought up in that religious dogma, was very well educated and held many senior positions in the church hierarchy before sailing to the New World and forsaking the soft life he had.
The book reveals not only his thoughts, but how many times he butted heads with the government and the military of Alta California as well as the Catholic Church for the better treatment of the indigenous people.
We should not condone the way he treated some of the natives, but we have socially progressed since the 18th century. We have become more enlightened in dealings with other races and religions.
Robert Dettloff, Huntington Beach
To the editor: The article left out an important piece of information.
Pope John Paul II proposed beatifying Serra in 1987 to coincide with his visit to the United States. The beatification was delayed largely due to vehement opposition from California tribes.
Should the current pontiff extend his upcoming U.S. visit to California, it is doubtful he’ll be cheered by local Native Americans this time or by anyone else with knowledge of the physical and mental abuse to which missionary Indians, under Serra’s watch, were subjected.
Vincent Brook, Los Angeles
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