The goings-on in the streets of America and beyond has been an education for white people, especially to wake up to the reality of 500 years of racism and colonialism in America.
In response to my writings in the DM on the truth of the role of Junipero Serra and the missions he founded in California, more than one reader has asked me to elaborate on “Why did Pope Francis canonize this man who did so much harm to native peoples?” I will attempt to address that question here and in tomorrow’s DM.
There were two efforts to canonize Serra, one under Pope John Paul II that failed. It was strongly resisted by California tribes (I spoke out strongly about it at the time when still a Dominican priest in good standing, and many Indians felt that one of the reasons I was silenced was that I did speak out against it). When Pope John Paul II backed off, we thought we had won the battle.
Sadly, Pope Francis, the first South American pope, brought it up again. Again, there was resistance–even stronger and louder than before–with scholars of the missions like Elias Castillo; Native American leaders like Valentin Lopez, an ex-Franciscan who is a journalist; Steven Newcomb, scholar of the Doctrine of Discovery; and many others resisting.
I joined them and managed to contact a friend of the Pope who told me there was considerable debate about it going on in the Vatican. I told him what indigenous leaders told me: “If Pope Francis goes through with this canonization, he will be making war on indigenous peoples the world over.” That is how seriously native peoples felt about the issue.
I learned that the big push was from monied Spaniards who wanted a Spanish Saint declared in the Americas. Maybe the Spaniards ought to take more responsibility for the ravages their empire wrought on indigenous peoples, rather than push for their own saint to make their souls feel righteous.
Why not look into canonizing the Dominican Bartolomew de las Casas who fiercely defended the Native peoples of the Americas and declared that their culture was superior to the Spanish (and Catholic) culture that was destroying them? Isn’t Saint Oscar Romero of Spanish ancestry?
I believe canonizing Serra was the biggest mistake and sin of the current papacy – a papacy that in many other ways has presented a more authentic face to the world – and I believe the Pope will regret it deeply.
He has done some very good things such as his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, and, ironically, the Pan-Amazon Synod last Fall that welcomed the voices of indigenous peoples of the Amazon (though its refusal to allow married indigenous priests was a complete copout).
There is also his canonization of Archbishop Romero; and his speech in congress celebrating Dorothy Day, MLK Jr, Thomas Merton and Abraham Lincoln. And his blunt talk about cannibal capitalism that earned him Rush Limbaugh’s wrath, calling him a “Marxist.”
Behind the debacle of canonizing Serra a saint is the destruction of the canonization process itself under Pope John Paul II. We will examine that in tomorrow’s DM.
See Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 192, 224, 443f.
Matthew’s website archives his articles, blog posts, talks, and letters supporting indigenous resistance to the canonization of Junipero Serra. See an internal search listing HERE.
Banner Image: Blessed Junípero Serra, ‘Apostle of California’, is depicted in a mosaic above the north arch of the East Portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception nearby Pope Francis’ seat at the Canonization Mass for Serra. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. on Flickr.
What does hagiography, canonization of saints mean to you?