In a year filled with craziness across the United States and the formerly Christian world, two things in particular—apparently unrelated—have hit me especially hard: the burning of Mission San Gabriel in the eponymous town in Southern California, and the retrogression in status of Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque. Of course, there were other things to consider, such as the arson in Nantes Cathedral and at the United Daughters of the Confederacy Headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, the attacks on statues of figures as diverse as Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town and Haile Selassie in London, as well as now-perennial favorites Christopher Columbus and Saint Junípero Serra, to say nothing of Saint Louis, Missouri’s saintly and royal namesake. Despite the wide variety of persons, places, and things, I maintain that the unrelation is only apparent, even if the ties that bind them together reside only in the dim collective unconsciousness of those who have perpetrated the assaults.
Let’s look at the first two, starting with San Gabriel Mission, and by extension, the Saint Junípero Serra statues. For the sake of full disclosure, I live near the Mission and have visited it countless times. It was the first Catholic church in the L.A. area, where the initial settlers of Los Angeles stopped to rest in 1781 before getting on with the business of city founding. It is arguably the holiest spot we have in my part of the world. Whether or not it was arson that claimed the venerable pile, the former would not be surprising given the atmosphere of anti-Serra hatred that is engulfing the state he founded. By any stretch of the imagination, the holy friar’s achievements were amazing even to the mid-19th-century Protestants and secularists who guided the Golden State after it was seized from Mexico—hence his statues’ location on public land and the U.S. Capitol. The mobs, on the other hand, hate not only Saint Junípero but his nationality and religion.
Even more interesting have been the reactions of their enablers in local government and business. When the city fathers of Ventura voted to take down the statue of the saint in front of the City Hall which has been an icon of Perry Mason’s birthplace since that fictional sleuth was born, the councilperson who oversaw the nocturnal dismantling—it was 3:00 am—is an ordained Catholic deacon. Most telling of all were the remarks of Bob Cullen, CEO of Skyline Crane Rental, which is the outfit the city farmed out their dirty work to. Despite the late hour of the deed, a small group of Catholics had arrived to protest. When Mr. Cullen showed up with the cranes, one of these Catholics told him that his business might suffer as a result of his participation. Before his hands-on pulling down of the statue, he airily replied that “he was glad to be part of the movement and that those people who opposed the removals are the minority and not in charge anymore….”
The above comes from an Aug. 25 story by Charles Coulombe in Crisis magazine.