Junipero Serra Statue

By ruben lopez-pulido (Flickr: Fray Junipero Serra) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Native Americans protest Pope Francis’ canonization of Priest Junipero Serra, who they believe enslaved, abused and spread disease.

This week, Pope Francis will be canonizing Father Junipero Serra of the Spanish Conquistadors. This decision has caused many Native Americans to reject the Catholic Church. Many accusations have been thrown about toward the 18th century Franciscan missionary. According to Sylvia Poggioli, the Vatican has dismissed all charges toward Serra, including his brutal imposition of Catholicism conversion and disease to the Native American population. They have stated that he was “a holy man” that introduced the Americas to “God’s love and mercy,” adding that he actively worked to defend the Native peoples.

Poggioli represented NPR, and reported that the canonization will be the step that “restores the important role of Catholicism in the founding history of the U.S.” In July, she recants, the Pope visited Latin America. He wound up giving the Native Americans an apology for the way the Catholic Church treated Native Americans during that time period. However, he added that he viewed Father Serra as an evangelizer that introduced Catholicism to those Native Americans from Mexico to California.

His apology appeared to fall short, as many Native Americans continue to voice their opposition to the decision. One John Allen, Boston Globe’s Vatican analyst, said that “it is utterly unreasonable to expect a Latin American to apologize for lifting up one of the Hispanic founding fathers” of Catholicism and the nation.

Father Thomas Reese has voiced that he would like that the canonization be postponed while the Church addresses the concerns raised by Native Americans, however he adds that being sainted doesn’t mean to imply perfection. The canonization will continue as scheduled, even as the Church works to smooth over the issues that Native American Catholics are having toward the sainthood. Among these problems are accusations that Serra contributed to the brutality in exploitation of the Native peoples.

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