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SAN FRANCISCO (ChurchMilitant.com) - A California prelate is expressing outrage after protestors pulled down a statue of St. Junipero Serra in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
In a strongly-worded statement published Saturday, Abp. Salvatore J. Cordileone was incredulous. "What is happening to our society?" he asked.
Cordileone went on to express disappointment that community activities to bring healing were commandeered for evil purposes. "A renewed national movement to heal memories and correct the injustices of racism and police brutality in our country has been hijacked by some into a movement of violence, looting and vandalism," he warned.
The Spanish embassy tweeted its shock and regret as well saying, "We deeply regret the destruction of the statue of St. Junípero Serra in San Francisco today, and would like to offer a reminder of his great efforts in support of indigenous communities."
According to news reports, roughly 100 protesters toppled the statue on Friday night. It was one of several statues pulled down in the world-famous park, including statues of Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant. A video of the incident went viral on Twitter.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the 30-foot statue "capsized in seconds after protesters coiled a rope around the base of the cross and pulled it to the ground." Once the statue was down, protesters poured red paint on it and then spray painted "stolen land," "Ohlone land," and "decolonize" on the pedestal.
The following day, native elders and protesters gathered in downtown Los Angeles to rip down a St. Serra statue the Knights of Columbus installed in 1932.
Pope Francis canonized the Spanish, Franciscan missionary on Sept. 23, 2015, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., during his first visit to the United States.
Serra is celebrated for his establishment of nine of 21 missions in the Spanish colony of New Spain, now California. The purpose of the 18th-century missions was to bring the Catholic faith to the native peoples. But experts claim they were also used politically to integrate the native people into Spanish society so they could assist in furthering Spanish presence and influence. It is widely recognized that Serra found himself in conflict with the Spanish military who, among other exploits, raped native women and created an epidemic of syphilis among the native people.
In his statement, Cordileone defended the saint, specifically addressing the abuses of the military:
St. Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers. Even with his infirmed leg which caused him such pain, he walked all the way to Mexico City to obtain special faculties of governance from the viceroy of Spain in order to discipline the military who were abusing the Indians. And then he walked back to California.
Cordileone also reminded his fellow citizens of St. Serra's ties to their city's patron saint. "Our dear city bears the name of one of history's most iconic figures of peace and goodwill: St. Francis of Assisi." He noted that "various Franciscan orders of brothers, sisters and priests that trace their inspiration back to him have been exemplary of not only serving, but identifying with, the poor and downtrodden and giving them their rightful dignity as children of God. St. Junipero Serra is no exception."
He concluded his statement with the acknowledgment that "historical wrongs have occurred," and while anger at injustice can be healthy when it leads to greater understanding, in the end, "as Christ himself teaches, and St. Francis modeled, love and not rage is the only answer."
The past week saw three incidents in California related to St. Serra: Thursday, the mayor of Ventura, native American elders and Fr. Tom Elewaut (pastor of nearby Mission San Buenaventura), jointly agreed to take down the saint's statue in that city; Friday night, St. Serra's statue was pulled down in San Francisco; and Saturday the saint's statue was toppled in Los Angeles.