The following was written by Archbishop Jose Gomez and published in the Los Angeles diocesan newspaper Angelus News on July 2:

St. Junípero Serra was a 56-year-old Franciscan friar when he came to California; when he first set eyes on the native peoples of California, he literally kissed the ground and gave thanks to God.

Late in his life he would write: “The trust they have in us is based on the fact that … we have given them birth in Christ. We have all come here and remained here for the sole purpose of their well-being and salvation. And I believe everyone realizes we love them.”

As I have shared before, I have a strong devotion to St. Junípero. So, I was saddened to read recently that the University of California at Santa Cruz has removed the El Camino Real mission bell on its campus, calling it a symbol of racism and the “dehumanization” of native peoples.  

St. Junípero has long been misunderstood and, in my opinion, wrongly used as a symbol for the tragic abuses committed against California’s first peoples.  

I hope that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent apology to California’s original peoples will help in the long process of healing these historic wounds. I hope it will also inspire new reflection on our history.

The governor’s apology is rooted in well-documented facts. In the 1850s, California’s secular government pursued what the state’s first governor called “a war of extermination … to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct.”

This is the truth. But it is important to remember that this history has nothing to do with St. Junípero or the missions. By the time California declared its “race war” and the U.S. Cavalry was called in to support these genocidal policies, St. Junípero was long dead and the missions had been closed or “secularized” for nearly two decades.

In fact, the loss of an authoritative Christian voice in California society meant the indigenous peoples in the 1850s had no one to defend their rights in the face of state-sanctioned violence and the ruthless appetites of ranchers, soldiers, and mining interests.

History is never simple. The facts matter, the truth matters, and distinctions are necessary. We cannot learn the lessons of history or heal the wounds of the past, unless we first understand what really happened and why. 

Full story at Angelus News.