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Many have condemned decision to elevate 18th-century missionary to sainthood after violence suffered by Native Americans he was said to be protecting.
Generations of American schoolchildren have been taught to think of Father Junípero Serra as California’s benevolent founding father, a humble Franciscan monk who left a life of comfort and plenty on the island of Mallorca to travel to the farthest reaches of the New World and protect the natives from the worst abuses of the Spanish imperial army.
Under Serra’s leadership, tens of thousands of Native Americans across Alta California, as the region was then known, were absorbed into Catholic missions – places said by one particularly rapturous myth-maker in the 19th century to be filled with “song, laughter, good food, beautiful languor, and mystical adoration of the Christ”.
What this rosy-eyed view omits is that these natives were brutalized – beaten, pressed into forced labour and infected with diseases to which they had no resistance – and the attempt to integrate them into the empire was a miserable failure. The journalist and historian Carey McWilliams wrote almost 70 years ago the missions could be better conceived as “a series of picturesque charnel houses”.
Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. Titus 2:8
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