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Controversy abounds over the first saint from America

The statue of missionary Junipero Serra, center, is seen in Statuary Hall, also known as the Old Hall of the House, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 2, 2015. California lawmakers are shelved a plan to replace the figure with astronaut Sally Ride, bowing to pressure to drop the idea until after Pope Francis's September visit. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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The Catholic Church has a new saint &#8212 Father Junipero Serra, a missionary who in the 1700s founded nine missions in what is now California. On Wednesday, at one of those missions in San Francisco, people like Corinna Gould were protesting because she is descended from the Native Americans that Father Serra converted.

“The mission system that he brought with him created total destruction of who we were as a people and our culture,” Gould said.

So I spoke with Father Tom Lucas at Seattle University who has studied the life of Junipero Serra. I asked him, why did the Pope do it?

“As the church becomes increasingly Hispanic in the United States, there are no Hispanic saints. Serra was at the top of the list. I have mixed feelings about it myself,” he said.

Mixed feelings because Serra was a creature of his time and he could be violent.

“Everybody got flogged for doing the wrong thing. He didn’t himself [participate in the flogging], but he sanctioned them,” Lucas said.

But Father Lucas says, in California at least, Serra and the Spaniards were better than what followed.

“[It was a] radically different approach to what happened when the Yankees came to California during the Gold Rush when the Indian peoples were systematically eradicated. The Spaniards never wanted to eliminate the Indian people [they wanted to assimilate them],” Lucas said.

And so, the protesters have a point in picketing Saint Serra’s mission in San Francisco, and yet at the same time, that mission is a big reason why there is a San Francisco.

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