By Betty Clermont | 3 May 2015
Yesterday, Pope Francis led a celebration for the soon-to-be canonized Junípero Serra by praising the 18th century Spanish Franciscan friar who founded the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California. “He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the Church’s universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country,” the pope said.
In the opinion of others, “Serra should be considered nothing less than a monster.” “The missions were coercive religious, forced labor camps…. The Indians who wound up there had their children taken from them, and harsh, manual labor was the rule. Beatings and filthy living conditions were common. The death rate at the missions was appalling. By 1818 the percentage of Indians who died in the missions reached 86 percent. Over 81,000 Indian ‘converts’ eventually managed to successfully flee the missions.”
Yesterday’s event was officially titled a “day of reflection” for Serra before the pope canonizes the missionary at a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC on Sept. 23 during his visit to the U.S. It will be a “national event,” the pope said.
Among the officials joining the pope at the Pontifical North American College in Rome were Cardinal Raymond Burke, Opus Dei prelates Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez and Newark Archbishop John Myers, along with the pope’s friend and Opus Dei member, Guzman Carriquiry, appointed by Francis as vice president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, a rare honor for a layman.
The supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson, gave the closing talk. The Knights have “invested millions” in the Church’s war against women and gays.
Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009).
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