The following is an excerpt of a commentary by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone that was first published in the Washington Post, June 30, 2020.
To the protesters who tore down his statue in Los Angeles this month, the priest, friar and St. Junípero Serra represents “hate, bigotry and colonization,” as one activist put it. Nothing would have made Serra sadder, for the real man was a profound lover of all people and especially of the indigenous peoples he came to serve.
Serra left his home, his family, his sinecure as a philosophy professor to offer the very best thing he had to the California people: the news that God Himself loved them enough to send His only Son to die on a cross to redeem them.
Serra repeatedly intervened for mercy on behalf of indigenous rebels against Spanish authorities. He famously walked to Mexico City with a painful ulcerated leg to obtain the authority to discipline the military who were abusing the indigenous people. Then he walked back.
There is no denying that Native Americans in California endured grave human rights abuses. But if we looked at Serra with clear eyes, we would see him as one of the first American champions of the human rights of indigenous peoples, a man who protested abusive police powers by government authorities.
The deaths that occurred during the Mission era were primarily from disease. The greater, more deliberate devastation happened later, when secular governments took control. As UCLA historian Benjamin Madley writes in his book “American Genocide”: “Murders and massacres filled the archives.” As Santa Clara University historian Robert Senkewicz told the National Catholic Reporter, “We do know what did happen when religious groups were not present to try to protect native peoples.”
Full story at Catholic San Francisco.