VENTURA, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The attack on historical symbols in the wake of the George Floyd killing has broadened to include religious figures, and Catholics in the Golden State have decided to do something about it.
While controversy continues in California over statues of St. Junípero Serra (the 18th-century Franciscan priest who founded nine missions from San Diego to San Francisco), Catholics in Ventura have banded together to stave off the potential destruction of their iconic statue.
In a letter to the Ventura community, Mayor Matt Lavere proposed that the statue be taken down and placed in a less public area. People then began sending e-mails to City Council members urging them not to remove the statue.
Others began a Rosary novena in front of the statue that will end July 1, the feast day of St. Serra. A petition was created to keep the statue. It has received about 4,000 signatures in just over a week.
Francisco Zinkewich, a Catholic living in the city of Ventura with his wife and three children, contacted Church Militant (CM) about the controversy.
Zinkewich told Church Militant that the mayor's letter, issued along with the pastor of the San Buenaventura Mission Parish, Fr. Tom Elewaut and the chair of the Santa Barbara and Ventura Band of Mission Indians, Julie Tumammait Stenslie, "got many Catholics and non-Catholic residents pretty upset."
"Later in the week," Zinkewich said, "there was a social-media call to go protest in front of the statue by the BLM-types. A group of brave Catholics, mainly young men, created a defensive ring around the statue and did not let these Marxists vandalize it."
Later, Zinkewich decided to organize a Rosary rally "to show that we are not only against vandalism, but we would like to promote all of what St. Serra has done for the Catholic Church in California," he said. With two other Catholic groups, Zinkewich organized the Rosary in front of the statue. It was attended by over 100 people.
Zinkewich, who was born in Uruguay, believes his father obtained a green card in 2002 through the intercession of St. Josemaría Escrivá. He has maintained his Catholic faith throughout turbulent times during his upbringing in the golden state.
According to Zinkewich, a solid Catholic community has sprung up in Ventura County over the past few decades, owing largely to the influx of alumni of nearby Thomas Aquinas College. This has, in turn, attracted other Catholic families (such as Zinkewich's) to join them. Many such families have been active in defending St. Serra from falsehoods and his likeness from destruction.
Discussions are now underway on the future of the statue, Zinkewich said. "On July 1, the [city's] Historical Preservation Committee is holding a special meeting to discuss the statue. On July 7, the City Council is holding a special meeting to decide its fate. ... It is my suspicion that the City Council may defer to the Historical Preservation Committee," he told Church Militant.
Saint Serra helped convert Native Americans and bring Christianity to California. Pope St. John Paul II beatified Junípero Serra in 1988, and Pope Francis canonized Serra in 2015.
Critics claim he was instrumental in subjecting natives to harsh labor and poor living conditions that eventually left them vulnerable to disease, famine and death.
On the other hand, Monterey bishop Daniel Garcia wrote last week in a letter to his faithful: "The Church cannot support such violence imposed on any group, nor can it support the violent destruction of sacred symbols of any faith community. After exhaustive investigation, it is clear St. Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors and soldiers."
Catholics in California and around the country are beginning to see more angry mobs destroying and defacing religious statues, including those of Jesus Himself. Many of the faithful are praying that spontaneous movements of courage to protect Christian art, like those seen in Ventura, will become the norm as sacrilegious activity continues.