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Pope Francis not only will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra when he visits Washington, DC, in September. He is also preventing Serra’s statue from being removed from the US Capitol.
At least for a while.
Because of the Pope’s impending visit to the US, the California lawmaker who wants Serra’s likeness to be replaced in the National Statuary Hall with that of a lesbian space pioneer is delaying the vote in the Golden State’s legislature.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said he would wait until after Francis’ visit before pushing to have California represented in the historic gallery by astronaut Sally Ride.
The California Catholic Conference, which opposes Lara’s proposal, welcomed Lara’s decision, according to Crux.
“Our concerns are mostly due to the timing of this legislative debate,” Sandra Palacios, associate director of governmental affairs at the California Catholic Conference, said at an Assembly committee hearing this week, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“It is always a momentous occasion when world religious leaders visit our country,” Lara said in a statement. “There is no doubt that Pope Francis’ visit this fall will provide a much needed space for introspection for many Americans during this critical time.”
Arriving in the nation’s capital Sept. 23, Pope Francis will visit President Obama at the White House and celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he will canonize Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan born in Spain.
The next day, when the Pontiff goes to address a joint session of Congress, he might be ushered through National Statuary Hall, where statues donated by individual states honor persons notable in their history. Serra is regarded as the founder of California.
Some Native Americans contend that Serra brutally converted indigenous people to Christianity, wiping out villages in the process.
“He didn’t do it physically by hand, but he knew his soldiers were dirty,” said Ron Andrade, a member of the La Jolla Indian Reservation and director of the Los Angeles City and County Native American Indian Commission.
Lara plans to take up his campaign again next year.
“We’re going to come back in January, we’re going to get this done, and we’re going to celebrate when we finally have our first woman honored and enshrined,” Lara told the Sacramento Bee. “I think it’s important for LGBT youth and women to see themselves in the nation’s Capitol.”
Other notable Catholic figures in Statuary Hall include Charles Carroll of Maryland, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; St. Damien de Veuster, who ministered to the lepers in Hawaii; two Jesuit missionaries: Fathers Eusebio Kino and Jacques Marquette, representing Arizona and Missouri, respectively, and Mother Joseph, a Sister of Charity of Providence, who build schools and hospitals in what is now Washington State.
Serra’s statue has stood in Statuary Hall since 1931. The other statue representing California is that of former governor and US President Ronald Reagan, which has stood in the hall since 2007.