The following comes from an August 6 Catholic News Agency article:
Blessed Junipero Serra’s love for the natives of California extended even to those who killed one of his friends and fellow missionaries, the Archbishop of Los Angeles has said in a summary of an early argument against the death penalty for a native Californian.
“In his appeals, he said some truly remarkable things about human dignity, human rights and the mercy of God,” Archbishop Jose Gomez said in Kansas City, Kansas July 29.
The archbishop reflected on the Franciscan missionary’s actions in the wake of a 1775 attack by California natives on the San Diego mission.
“They burned the whole place down and they tortured and killed one of the Franciscans there, a good friend of Fray Junipero,” Archbishop Gomez recounted.
While the Spanish military wanted to arrest the natives and execute them, Father Junipero Serra repeatedly wrote to urge them to spare the accused.
Father Serra, a Franciscan missionary, helped found many of the Californian missions that went on to become the centers of major cities. The California natives who joined the missions learned the faith, as well as the technologies and learning of Europe.
Pope Francis will canonize Father Serra during his U.S. visit in September.
“In his writings, we find deep love for the native peoples he had come to evangelize,” Archbishop Gomez said of the missionary.
The Los Angeles archbishop reflected on one episode of the missionary’s life in his keynote speech at the National Diocesan Pro-Life Leadership Conference.
In a Dec. 15, 1775 letter to the Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua, Father Serra said, “let the murderer live so he can be saved, which is the purpose of our coming here and the reason for forgiving him.”
Archbishop Gomez suggested that Father Serra was “the first person in the Americas – and maybe in all of the universal Church – to make a theological and moral argument against the death penalty.”