Bishop Robert Barron’s Instagram for July 4 features a quote from Italian Catholic activist Pier Giorgio Frassati: “To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth – that is not living, but existing.”

It was fitting that Barron chose July 4, Independence Day – and the Feast of Pier Giorgio Frassati – to join a group of Catholics in Ventura, who came out to defend the statue of Saint Junipero Serra in front of Ventura City Hall.

On June 20, as protesters rallied at the statue, shouting “Tear It Down,” a group of Catholic families and young people shielded the statue, praying throughout the rally, and only leaving when the anti-Serra protesters disbanded.

As word got out that “Ventura’s largest” Black Lives Matter rally was to meet in downtown Ventura on July 4, concerned Catholics again mobilized.   A group of about 75 Catholics surrounded the statue as the rally began Saturday morning, praying the Rosary.  As hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters breached a barricade and surrounded the statue after marching through nearby streets, the Catholics – many of them teenagers and college students – continued to pray the Rosary, shouting to be heard over the chants of the BLM protesters.

The Serra protectors were encouraged by a surprise guest, a black-clad figure wearing his trademark baseball cap: Bishop Robert Barron. Noted author and media presence, Barron is auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles for the Santa Barbara pastoral region, which includes Ventura.

According to a high school student who was present, Barron told the Catholics at the statue that he was there “to give them hope.”    His presence was significant for another reason.   He has recently come under fire for his testy response “That’s the laity’s job!” to the question of who should stand up to the current “cancel culture.”

On June 24, Barron published a Word on Fire article entitled “Why ‘What Are The Bishops Doing About It?’ is the Wrong Question.” In the article, he responded to comments critical of the bishops’ response to the ongoing clamor to remove statues of  St. Louis, King of France, and St. Junipero Serra. Barron remarked that the laity “are putting way too much onus on the clergy and not nearly enough on themselves.” He insisted that “the lion’s share of the work regarding this massive societal problem belongs to those whose proper arena is the society and whose expertise lies precisely in the relevant areas of concern, namely, the laity.”

Reaction to Barron’s Word on Fire article was overwhelmingly negative. In the ensuing furor, he disabled comments for his article, and blocked a certain prominent Catholic’s twitter account. Ultimately, however, it appears that he paid attention.

July 8 UPDATE:

Ventura City Council met Tuesday, July 7 to discuss the statue’s fate.  As the meeting began, a large crowd gathered at the statue to pray.  The city council meeting, held virtually, lasted for almost five hours.  There were over 120 public comments, and, according to one council member, “thousands of pages” of comments submitted prior to the meeting. The city council expected to vote on the issue at the July 7 meeting but postponed the vote until Wednesday, July 15.  Meanwhile, a petition to save the statue has gathered nearly 5000 signatures.

The above story was written by Monica Seeley.