The following comes from a Feb. 9 column by Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland published in the Catholic Voice.
Pope Francis announced during a press conference on his flight to the Philippines that he intended to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, founder of the California Missions. This took most of us local “Cali” bishops by surprise, as we had not heard if a second miracle had occurred since Serra’s beatification in 1988, which is usually required for canonization. KQED has quoted the pope as saying he has waived the requirement for a second miracle since Father Serra has for centuries been considered a holy man and a great evangelizer.
Some say Father Serra caused harm to the Indians he converted. Others say he was a hero … and genius for organizing the Mission system. Some of the facts: Indians were free to accept baptism or not. Once they were instructed in the faith and accepted baptism they were required to live in the mission community. They knew this before converting.
The Franciscan padres built the missions at a distance from the pueblos, or towns, to protect the Indians from exploitation by the Spanish and Mexican settlers. (That is why in our diocese, “Mission San Jose” is in Fremont and not San Jose.)
One of the unintended results of the meeting of European and Native American peoples was that Indians were susceptible to diseases brought by the colonizers. Unfortunately, many Indians got sick and died. This is a tragedy. But is it due to Father Serra … or the unintended consequence of Europe meeting America?
Pope John Paul II put the issue in balance when he addressed Native American Indians on his visit to Phoenix on Sept. 14, 1987: ”The early encounter between your traditional cultures and the European way of life was an event of such significance and change that it profoundly influences your collective life even today. That encounter was a harsh and painful reality for your peoples. The cultural oppression, the injustices, the disruption of your life and of your traditional societies must be acknowledged.”
“At the same time, in order to be objective, history must record the deeply positive aspects of your people’s encounter with the culture that came from Europe. Among these positive aspects I wish to recall the work of the many missionaries who strenuously defended the rights of the original inhabitants of this land. They worked to improve living conditions and set up educational systems, learning your languages in order to do so.”
“Above all, they proclaimed the Good News of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ, an essential part of which is that all men and women are equally children of God and must be respected and loved as such. This gospel of Jesus Christ is today, and will remain forever, the greatest pride and possession of your people.”