Sep 28, 2015
The Pope is being lauded as a champion of the poor for speaking out against poverty and inequality, the destruction of the environment and the plight of migrants fleeing war-torn areas of the world.
Many American Indian activists and supporters have a different view due to the Pope’s recent choice for sainthood, the 18th century Spanish missionary Junipero Serra. As “Father Presidente,” Serra oversaw the founding of at least 10 Spanish missions in the area from San Jose to Los Angeles, California between 1769 and 1784. Approximately 150,000 Indians died in the period that followed. In the area of one mission that extended from Monterey to San Francisco, the population of Ohlone Indians dropped from 30,000 to 100 in a 26-year period starting with Serra’s rule.
The Catholic Church developed a myth that the Indians came to their missions voluntarily and that Serra had great concern for their rights and well-being. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The Indians were used as slave labor. Spanish soldiers were sent out to capture them. When they did, they often separated families to prevent the Indians from passing their culture on from one generation to the next.
The Indians were housed in locked “dormitories” in crowded, deplorable conditions, with no baths and small pots for toilets. With no other women in California, soldiers commonly raped Indian women. The Spanish used every kind of harsh measure to keep the Indians under control.
Pope Francis apparently wants to honor the myth of Serra, and doesn’t care about the reality. But the victims of the Church don’t have that luxury.