Sunday, November 23, 2008
(Image: Father Serra at age 61, several years before his death. Author unknown. Public domain).
Sainthood was proposed for Father Junipero Serra 60 years ago by the Catholic Diocese of Monterey-Fresno. The laborious process has moved slowly since. In 1985, the Vatican recognized Serra as worthy for establishing the Spanish missions in California during the 18th century. In 1986, Pope John Paul II declared the priest venerable, and was expected to beatify him in September 1987 while visiting Serra's grave at the Carmel Mission. But Indian protests erupted. Some historians and Catholics see Serra as a hero who brought Christianity to save the souls of thousands of California Indians, while other historians and Indian descendants see him as a brutal force of cultural genocide. Most Indians died young from various diseases brought by the Spanish, and some were treated as captives and slaves. A year after his Carmel visit, the pope did beatify Serra and move him one step from sainthood, but the controversy simmers on.