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As with any piece of history, we should recognize our faults and successes equally but the matter of the issue is whether we celebrate them or not. The canonization of Father Junipero Serra has been the cause of controversy as Serra was the founder of the California Missions, notorious for “enslaving” native Californians. Depending on how you define enslavement, Serra oversaw the native Californians living and working in the missions. Personally, after reading four different articles on the matter and listening to a podcast, I have to say to that I would lean more towards not celebrating Serra. I don’t think we should denigrate Serra or his achievements, however.
Serra did accomplish things such as evangelizing and making Christians and helped establish the foundation for modern-day California. He did advocate for the native people but violence and terror were still inflicted on the natives. I have always been fascinated with native people and honestly, upon reading about Serra and the missions, I’d be lying if I said some part of me wasn’t disgusted. Our treatment of natives has been heinous throughout history and in these narratives about Serra, he cannot be excluded or pardoned. No matter how you put it, the lives of the natives were disrupted, their cultures were ignored and forgotten, and they were forced to partake in mission lifestyles and faced pressure to convert. I know saints are not perfect, but I hold the opinion that perhaps we shouldn’t have saints at all.
Serra should be recognized for his drawbacks and his successes. But do we really need to place him on a pedestal that not only acknowledges the horrid treatment of the natives but condones it? Depends on how we look at the situation. But from an overall perspective on whether he should be canonized, it depends on how you look at the situation. If you’re looking at Serra as an evangelizer, then yes, Pope Francis is correct in granting him sainthood. But if we are looking at Serra as a humanitarian and overall great person, then Sainthood would not be as fitting. With that said, perceptions over these events have changed over time. Back then, the missions and mission lifestyles were a regular day-to-day occurrence and the punishments inflicted upon residents were a normal way of life, according to one of the articles. People different from those in power were seen as weak, not as human and in need of help (see the treatment of any native American and also African-Americans) so this sheds light on why Serra felt so strongly obligated to assist the natives.
Serra thought of them, according to author Tony Platt, as “backwards children” who desperately needed ways of living. These thoughts and opinions all matched the mindsets back then. But in modern times, there has been a strong push to recognize all of our wrongdoings so that we may avoid repeating the mistake. In addition to history, humanitarian efforts and the narratives of those whose ancestors suffered at the hands of powerful people, define what is acceptable and not acceptable. And this definitely includes enslavement, torture, and the erasure of culture. There’s no doubt that without Serra we probably would not be here today. But we must also recognize that with those achievements, native Californians were torn from their homelands and gradually disappeared as colonizers arrived. Yes, Serra should be recognized. If we celebrate him we should focus on his doctrine of love but also pay equal attention to what was going on in the background.
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