My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
July 1 was the feast day of St. Junípero Serra, a Franciscan missionary priest from Majorca, Spain, who came to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the New World in 1750. He established nine of the California missions, baptized over 6,000 native peoples, and is recognized as a builder of the State of California. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1988, calling him “an exemplary model of the selfless evangelizer.” Pope Francis canonized him as a saint during his visit to the United States in 2015.
Unfortunately, some radical anarchists who are ignorant of history have destroyed statues of St. Junípero Serra. After a statue of St. Junípero Serra was torn down in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on June 19 by a crowd of about 100 people, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the Archbishop of San Francisco, was joined by several dozen Catholics in prayer and acts of spiritual reparation.
In his remarks, Archbishop Cordileone said, “Evil has made itself present here. So we have gathered together to pray for God, to ask the saints … for their intercession, above all our Blessed Mother, in an act of reparation, asking God’s mercy on us and on the whole city, that we might turn our hearts back towards him. I feel such a great wound in my soul when I see these horrendous acts of blasphemy disparaging the memory of Serra who was such a great hero, such a great defender of the indigenous people of this land.”
Archbishop Cordileone further explained, “An act of sacrilege occurred here. That is an act of the Evil One. We came together to say the prayer of the rosary, and also the prayer of exorcism, the St. Michael Prayer, because evil is here, this is an activity of the evil one, who wants to bring down the Church, who wants to bring down all Christian believers. So we offer that prayer, and bless this ground with holy water so that God might purify it, sanctify it, that we in turn might be sanctified.”
Encouraging Catholics to pray, to fast, and to inform themselves, he added, “There’s a lot that people don’t know. There’s a lot of ignorance of the real history. I’d ask our people to learn about the history of Father Serra, of the missions, of the whole history of the Church, so that they can appreciate the great legacy the Church has given us.”
A statue to St. Junípero Serra was also torn down in the plaza outside the first church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles, in downtown Los Angeles. The Archbishop of Los Angeles, Archbishop José Gomez, who also serves as the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote a Letter to the faithful for the Memorial of St. Junípero Serra, in which he said, “Historical memory is the soul of every nation. What we remember about our past and how we remember it defines our national identity — the kind of people we want to be, the values and principles we want to live by. But history is complicated. The facts matter, distinctions need to be made, and the truth counts. We cannot learn history’s lessons or heal old wounds unless we understand what really happened, how it happened, and why. … The sad truth is that, beginning decades ago, activists started ‘revising’ history to make St. Junípero the focus of all the abuses committed against California’s indigenous peoples. But the crimes and abuses that our saint is blamed for — slanders that are spread widely today over the internet and sometimes repeated by public figures — actually happened long after his death.”
All of the Catholic bishops of California released a statement decrying the destruction of these statues of St. Junípero Serra, saying, “The historical truth is that Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American communities. Serra was not simply a man of his times. In working with Native Americans, he was a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era. And if that is not enough to legitimate a public statue in the state that he did so much to create, then virtually every historical figure from our nation’s past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today’s standards.”
Closer to our own diocese, protesters in St. Louis, also ignorant of history, have called for the removal of the statue of St. Louis, who was King of France from 1226-70, and after whom the city is named. He took part in the Seventh and Eighth Crusades to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslim invaders. He established hospitals, and personally cared for the poor and for lepers. He was canonized in 1297.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and former Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis, who has a doctorate in church history, wrote in the June 28 issue of The Wall Street Journal, “Defacing, tearing down and hiding statues and portraits is today’s version of Puritan book-burning. Our children need to know their country’s past, its normative figures and their virtues and vices. … As a historian by training, I want to remember the good and the bad, and recall with gratitude how even people who have an undeniable dark side can let light prevail and leave the world better. I want to keep bringing classes of schoolchildren to view such monuments, and to explain to them how even such giants in our history had crimes, unjust acts and plain poor judgment mixed in with the good we honor.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.