Pope Francis began his first trip to the United States on Sept. 22 when he arrived in Washington, D.C. As of the past week, he has been in and out of the news for his events and ceremonies taking place during his tour of the United States. One of the most shocking and controversial events happened on Sept. 23 during Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where Pope Francis canonized Spanish missionary Junípero Serra.
Although the canonization of Junípero Serra took place on Sept. 23 seemingly without conflict, there has been quite a lot of backlash from Pope Francis’ act and declaration. The controversy comes from the Native American tribes that would had been affected by Junípero Serra’s mission to reform and protect them. According to a CNN article, “Fifty different tribes in California condemned the sainthood conferred on Serra.” Deborah Miranda, the author of “Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir,” stated that, “The missions ended up killing about 90% of the California Indians present at the time of missionization, creating all kinds of cultural and emotional baggage that we still carry to this day.” Considering the history of many of Serra’s missions, some are speculating that little thought went into the canonization of the Spanish missionary. The Native American tribes that are descendants of the California Natives have taken their information and complaints to the Roman Catholic Church itself, asking for the Pope to rethink his canonization leading up to his visit to the United States. However, these complaints seemed to have been met with silence. Miranda also stated, “We have gotten zero response from the Vatican, not a word. We do not exist, it seems, in Pope Francis’ world.”
It was a surprise not only to Native Americans, but to many that Serra would become canonized by Pope Francis. An article in the Washington Post, written by Sarah Bailey, tells us in order to become a saint you must be accredited with more than one miracle, and considering Serra is only accredited with one miracle, he should not be canonized. However, Pope Francis considers Serra’s life to be the second miracle, therefore justifying his actions to canonize Serra. This conflict in Serra’s history has become a national controversy, and debates over whether Serra should have been canonized or not continue to rage on. It has also concreted further speculation that Pope Francis is inconsiderate and aloof towards Native American tribes and the atrocities that had been committed upon them. The conflict has arisen from two different views of Serra’s history and will have to be resolved during debate of the factual information from these two viewpoints. Be sure to check CNN, The Washington Post, NPR, and CBS News for updates on this controversial topic.