On a new Saint and negative press | Dale Ahlquist | CWR
The canonization of Fr. Junipero Serra should have been a cause for great rejoicing for all Catholics and for the people of California, and, well, for everybody else. But it wasn't.
I recently returned from making the rounds in the San Francisco Bay area and beyond, where I gave some talks on my favorite writer. While there, I ventured down the coast a ways to visit the grave of one of the world's newest saints—and the first saint ever canonized on U.S. soil—Father Junipero Serra. He is buried beneath the altar of the Mission San Carlo Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, also known as the Carmel Mission Basilica.
His canonization should have been a cause for great rejoicing for all Catholics and for the people of California, and, well, for everybody else. Instead, what little publicity it got was much more negative than positive.
Instead of being portrayed as a brave and compassionate missionary, who brought the love of God and many other good things to souls along the California coast, he is being condemned as an oppressor of the native peoples and a symbol of European Imperialism. The portrait is a little unfair. And a little inaccurate. (For those not familiar with irony, when I say “a little” I really mean “gigantically.”)
For most of the last two hundred plus years, this Franciscan priest had a good reputation among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Considered “The Man Who Founded California” the state honored him with a statue in the U.S. Capitol. He founded the first nine of twenty-one Franciscan missions in California, including the ones that eventually became the cities of San Diego and San Francisco. He started the first library in California. The many Serra Clubs across the country are named for him.
But then if you don't like history, one of the simplest solutions is to revise it. G.K. Chesterton expresses the idea that God alone knows the future, but only a historian can re-write the past. Political agendas replaced the historical record, and Fr. Serra's great accomplishments were given a coat of tarnish. Without the benefit of facts, he has been condemned as a racist and a slaver, utterly false accusations. At best, what was once high praise has been replaced with the suggestive word, “controversial.”
In the meantime, the Catholic Church made him a saint.
And perhaps the tide is turning back toward the truth.