Recent weeks have witnessed the tragic escalation of violence which has included the destruction of historic statues by frenzied mobs.
Just 10 days ago an agitated pack tore down a statue of the Franciscan missionary priest Saint Junipero Serra in San Francisco’s Golden Gate State Park. The very same day in Los Angeles, rioters pulled down another statue of him in their own city center.
During the 18th century, Serra founded 9 Catholic missions along the west coast of “New Spain” which would be admitted into the union as the state of California in 1850. The missions were lively multicultural communities of prayer, work and leisure. Self-governed and self-sustaining. Inspired by the earliest Christians whose deeply held common-mission is chronicled in Acts of the Apostles, Serra’s missions peacefully blended Natives and Spaniards and unsurprisingly birthed new art, distinctive architecture and living the Christian faith in marvelously unique and particular ways.
In a word, these missions were wonderfully catholic.
Serra labored tirelessly to champion the natives, learning their languages and respecting their customs, not setting out to conquer but to love those who many civil and military leaders of the day regarded as less than human, speaking about them as “barbarians and savages.”
Gentle in spirit, Serra did not impose Christianity. Taking to heart the earliest Christians whose love was known to all, Serra simply offered to natives and others the greatest gift he could – to facilitate on-going personal encounter with Christ Jesus the Lord.