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News of Serra's
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placeholder February 9, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA

In front of the tule house at Mission Dolores in San Francisco, Vincent Medina Jr., Andrew Galvan, Carla Munoz and Joseph Byron. The four Native Americans discussed the upcoming canonization of Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California Missions.

Saint or not? News of Serra's canonization
draws mixed reaction
to California missions

It's possible to visit the 21 California missions as a tourist; Franciscan Pilgrimage Program offers the opportunity to experience the missions as a pilgrim, from the perspective of faith, prayer and Franciscan spirituality.

The pilgrimages, a non-profit ministry of the Assumption BVM Province, Franciscans in Wisconsin, operate on a three-year cycle. In 2016, the pilgrimage to Northern California missions will include San Francisco Solano; San Rafael Arcangel; San Francisco de Asis; San Jose; Santa Cruz; San Juan Bautista; San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo; and Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. Lodging is at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville.

Central California missions, including Santa Barbara, Virgen y Martir; La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima; San Buenaventure; San Antonio de Padua; San Miguel, Arcangel; San Luis, Obispo de Tolosa; and Santa Ines, Virgen y Martir. Lodging is at Casa De Maria in Santa Barbara.

The cycle ends in 2018, with Southern California missions, including San Fernando Rey de Espana; San Gabriel Arangel; San Juan Capistrano; San Luis Rey de Francis; Asistencia San Antonio de Pala; and San Diego. Lodging is at Mary and Joseph Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Information is available at www.franciscanpilgrimages.com.

Pope Francis' announcement that he will canonize Father Junipero Serra, founder of California's Mission system, has been met with mixed reactions, including in some families.

For Andrew Galvan, curator at Mission Dolores in San Francisco, who has been involved in the cause for Serra's sainthood for three decades, the announcement was "joyful." But his cousin, Vincent Medina Jr., who serves as assistant curator at the mission, respectfully disagrees.

Galvan and Medina are Chochenyo Ohlones. At Mission Dolores, they walk on the ground their ancestors trod. Near the Ohlone tule house in the mission cemetery stands a monument to their ancestors, Poylemja, who became Faustino at Baptism, and Jocbocme, who became Obulinda.

"He wants to hold Father Serra up — that's why we make saints, they're role models — as a role model for modern evangelization," Galvan said.

Galvan called Serra "a role model for evangelization who came here to this part of the world to bring the Gospel and convert my ancestors."

For Galvan, 59, there's "never been a doubt" of Serra's sainthood.

"There's a lot of difficulty when cultures encounter each other," he said. "And that's part of what we call the controversy.

"There are certain things Junipero Serra himself did, but he didn't do everything that happened at the missions. If an event happened at a mission when he was alive, he gets the credit and the blame."

"For anyone who is the founder of an institution," Galvan said, "when things go well, they get the praise. When things are falling apart, it's their fault."

Medina, 28, disagreed. "I'm very disappointed in the canonization," he said. "I don't equate Junipero Serra, like some people would say, to one extreme side, to Hitler. I don't agree with that. I think we have to be rational and level-headed.

"He wasn't intentionally trying to kill every Indian who was here in the missions. But the policies that he led were disastrous and the fact that he knew that there were deaths and diseases, he knew there were assaults that were happening. He knew that people were being violated in just about every way possible, and the system continued on here in California. Because he was the leader of the system, I think it is important he gets the brunt of the criticism."

Carla Munoz, 30, shared his concerns. "I was very shocked," said Munoz, a Rumsen Ohlone, whose family lived at the mission at Carmel. "I wouldn't have ever thought that could have been a possibility, given the epic struggle he imposed on our people.

"Part of our struggle is to go through the missions to see where we come from," she said. "There is excellent documentation, which I will say is an amazing part. It gives you a sense of history, a sense of belonging to a land, which is a blessing. But with that came the rape of our language, our culture, our dignity, who we are. How can you make somebody not be who they are, and still be put on this pedestal?"

An elementary school mission project "sparked a flame in me to know more" for Joseph Byron, 30, a Miwok from Bodega Bay.

He wrote his paper about his tribe; he asked family members for stories. "The teacher said everything was made up," he said, "she had never heard of our tribe."

The homeland was about a 25-minute drive from his school.

"I wanted my nieces and nephews and future generations to know who they are and where they come from, without any doubt," he said.

"My sense is that the pope is trying to highlight the different types of evangelization in the history of the church," said Robert Senkewicz, a history professor at Santa Clara University.

Serra's canonization "calls attention to the way evangelization has affected both North and South America," said Senkewicz, whose book, "California, Indians and the Transformation of a Missionary," written with Rose Marie Beebe is being published this month.

The timing may be affected by a pope from South America as well as changing thoughts about Serra. "Serra was a very controversial figure, perhaps even more so 20 or 30 years ago," he said.

"Lines that were hard and rigid pros and cons 30 years ago have become much more porous," he said. "Crooked, rather than straight."

But is it fair to judge an 18th Century man by 21st Century standards?

"In order for someone to be made a saint, it means they transcend their time," Medina said. "They go beyond what's expected of the time they're living in.

"If you're made a saint, you're leading an extraordinary life that goes beyond time and transcends that. Serra continued on the abuses that were being perpetrated by the Spanish."

"It's a complex world where I can be Catholic and still criticize things that I see as unjust or unfair," Medina said. "You can be a part of something and still criticize it."

For Medina, who has learned the Chochenyo language and is teaching it to young family members, working from the inside means continuing to tell visitors to the mission about the native people who lived there.

"I'm alive today because of the people who survived these places," he said. "I hope that they would be proud that we're here telling their story in a fair way."

Galvan, who attended the beatification ceremony in Rome for Serra in 1987, would like to see Pope Francis canonize Serra in California. "If you're planting the Gospel, where has been the greatest development?" he asked, making the case for Los Angeles.

He also noted, tongue in cheek, that if the pope is trying to make a point about immigration, and wants to go to the border, "Junipero Serra would be a perfect role model for immigration because Serra is the first undocumented illegal to cross the border from Mexico into California because he didn't have the Indians' permission to enter California."

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