The following comes from a Feb. 10 Catholic News Agency story.
Washington D.C.- Just weeks after Pope Francis announced his intention to canonize missionary Father Junipero Serra during his upcoming visit to the states, a California legislator has proposed replacing the soon-to-be-saint’s statue in the U.S. Capitol.
Father Serra helped establish the California missions, many of which became the centers of major cities like San Diego. In recent weeks, however, California State Sen. Ricardo Lara has proposed that the priest’s statue be replaced with a less “controversial” figure. Critics of the move are beginning to speak out.
Msgr. Weber, the 82-year-old Archivist Emeritus of the Archival Center at the San Fernando Mission in Mission Hills, Calif., praised Father Serra’s “magnetic personality” despite being “a short little fellow, with poor health.”
“It was the first contact that the Europeans made with the Native Americans,” Msgr. Weber said of the missionary’s work. “When he died the Native Americans were terribly upset. He had become such a hero among them,” Msgr. Weber said.
Grazie Pozo Christie, a Miami-born doctor who spent her childhood in Mexico, said Fr. Serra’s canonization “means a lot” to Catholic Latinos as well.
Fr. Serra is “very much our very own and we love to see our own recognized and acclaimed,” she told CNA Feb. 9.
“To Latinos, Fr. Serra means unconditional love, acceptance, and sacrifice, because that is what he showed our forefathers,” said Christie, who is on the advisory board for The Catholic Association.
Fr. Serra’s statue has been in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection since 1931. However, Sen. Ricardo Lara has proposed that Father Serra’s statue be replaced with a statue of astronaut Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space.
Lara characterized the priest as “a controversial figure.” He said his effort to replace the statue with Sally Ride’s is about “recognizing the invaluable contributions of an accomplished Californian and American pioneer,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Msgr. Weber, however, rejected many of the claims against Serra. “You see all of these accusations against Serra, but not one of them can be validated by a responsible historian.”
St. John Paul II, during his 1987 visit to the U.S., praised Father Serra as the native peoples’ “defender and champion” whose actions had as their aim the “spiritual and physical well-being” of Native Americans.
Msgr. Weber worried that an agenda was at work in the criticisms leveled at Serra.
“The Native Americans, I think, are being utilized by these people who have a rather warped view of what evangelization is all about,” he said. “I’m convinced that the questions about Junipero Serra are really not about Serra himself, who simply epitomized Catholic evangelization. I’m convinced that this is an attack on all of Catholic evangelization throughout the world.”