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Bishops respond to destruction of a 3rd statue of St. Junípero Serra


Aaron Fulkerson | CC BY-SA 2.0

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 07/06/20

"St. Junípero Serra had nothing to do with these abuses. The true historical record is clear on this point."

A third statue of Saint Junípero Serra was destroyed in California on July 4; this one was on the grounds of California’s state capitol. Around 9 pm, the statue was burned, torn down, and then attacked with sledgehammers.

The California Catholic Conference responded to the vandalism with a statement:

Saturday night, July 4, protesters in Sacramento’s Capitol Park tore down a longstanding statue of St. Junípero Serra, our nation’s first Hispanic saint, one of the founders of the modern state of California, and a tireless advocate for the rights of native Americans. We respect the pain felt by our native brothers and sisters and their anger at the historical abuses committed against their ancestors, both during the Mission Period and especially afterward. But we need to again remind our fellow Californians, St. Junípero Serra had nothing to do with these abuses. The true historical record is clear on this point. St. Junípero loved and bravely defended the native peoples, even writing a bill of rights to protect them from the ambitions of the Spanish colonizers. As Californians, we may decide not to honor St. Junípero with a statue on public land, but that is a decision for all of us to debate with a clear understanding of the actual historical events. It is not a decision that a small group of protesters should take upon themselves. We call on our elected officials to uphold the rule of law and to encourage thoughtful public discourse, based on a careful review of the historical record, and we call on our neighbors to express themselves peacefully, whether communally or individually, in the great American tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience. On behalf of the Catholic community of California, we pledge ourselves to continue working for healing, justice and reconciliation in our society and to promote the great truth that St. Junípero defended — that all men and women are created equal as Children of God.

Two other statues of the saint were torn down June 19.

Read more:
Bishop Barron: Why ‘What are the bishops doing about it?’ is the wrong question

On June 29, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the current president of the US bishops, released a statement about the saint, whose feast day is July 1.

I understand the deep pain being expressed by some native peoples in California. But I also believe Fray Junípero is a saint for our times, the spiritual founder of Los Angeles, a champion of human rights, and this country’s first Hispanic saint. I was privileged to celebrate his canonization Mass with Pope Francis in 2015. I rely on his intercession in my ministry, and I am inspired by his desire to bring God’s tender mercy to every person. The exploitation of America’s first peoples, the destruction of their ancient civilizations, is a historic tragedy. Crimes committed against their ancestors continue to shape the lives and futures of native peoples today. Generations have passed and our country still has not done enough to make things right. In the family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we have worked hard to atone for past errors and wrongs and to find the path forward together. We honor the contributions that native peoples made to building the Church in Southern California and we cherish their gifts in the mission of the Church today. Over the years, I have come to understand how the image of Father Serra and the missions evokes painful memories for some people. For that reason, I believe the protests over our history in California, and the broader protests that have started elsewhere in the country over historical monuments, are important. 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 archbishop’s letter goes on to look at the history of the saint in some detail. Read it here.

Read more:
Pope Francis Tells American Seminary Blessed Junipero Serra Is One of America’s “Founding Fathers”

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