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JUNIPERO SERRA


Priest Junipero Serra statue in San Buenavista Mission, California

"Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Father Junípero Serra. He was the embodiment of "a Church which goes forth”, a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God.

Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life....Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it."
— Pope Francis. (Full homily, Rome Reports)

"Indeed, Padre Serra’s canonization will be a beautiful day in the life of our nation...The canonization of Padre Serra will be an important sign in this new era of globalization and cultural encounter.

In our continental mission of the new evangelization, we have much to learn from Padre Serra and the first missionaries to the Americas."
— Archbishop Jose H. Gomez (Full article, St. Junipero)


300,000 people lived in California before destiny manifested in 1769 (A Crown of Thorns). This year, Spanish Catholic missions altered the state's tribal history forever.

Mass genocide of Native Americans swept from the Pacific Coast throughout Central America and into the Brazilian Amazon. Colonialism carried a wave of diasporic violence against indigenous people.

Religion played a key role.

SPAIN BEFORE THE "NEW WORLD"

Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella had led religious wars for territory before Columbus even "discovered" the New World. When the Muslim state Granada fell, this defeat was a holy "recovery" and "praiseworthy purpose" in Christian eyes.

Their brutal conquests were very much supported by Pope Alexander VI, with the nefarious Inter Caetaraa papal bull which gave the zealous Monarchs unlimited rights.

Papal bulls are Vatican-granted decrees that promoted Christian rule over non-believing lands and shifted power from indigenous citizens to European conquerors. These absolutely applied to nations.

Here's a very important excerpt from the 1493 bull: "Any of said islands found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenance." (Manataka)

This unchecked religious imperialism sailed with the Spanish as their empire set sights on "pagan lands".

SERRA'S PAST

Junipero Serra (born Miguel Josep Serra) held fast to Catholic faith since youth. His favorite tales mentioned the Franciscan friars abroad, bringing pagans into the Church's ways. Serra became a priest in 1737 but wasn't satisfied at that. He wished to do missionary work.

Right away, indigenous belief systems presented a major concern. Mexico City had been a multi-religious city for millennia but Serra refused to accept this.

He appealed to the local Inquisition officials from Jalpan village and became Inquisitor over the entire Sierra Gorda ("The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra" pg. 115).

Serra's mentee Francisco Palou boasted of the changes to come.

Reports on witchcraft followed immediately. Serra ranted as "President among the missions of the infidels" about "the most detestable and horrible crimes of sorcery, witchcraft and devil worship and who are in league with them..."

Two women were arrested by the Franciscans: Melchora de los Reyes Acosta and Cayetana. One died in custody under dubious circumstances. (Santa Barbara Independent, 2015)

"...If such evil is not attacked, the horrible corruption will spread among these poor [Indian] neophytes who are in our charge".

Serra fervently insisted that indigenous Mexican believers were sacrificing to demons who appeared as "young goats and things of that nature".

Source: Antonin Tibesar, "Report to the Inquisition of Mexico City", (Writings of Junipero Serra, Vol. 1)

Serra proved himself woefully uneducated and unfit to preach. He continued to present the falsehood of heliocentrism while preaching (Matthew Fox). And self-harming was still an accepted practice in Franciscan worship at that time. Serra immensely prioritized suffering.

The friar donned a hairshirt with cutting wire barbs and beat himself with knotted ropes (Counterpunch). He frequently self-flagellated, whipping himself with chains and beating his chest with large stones.

Serra's focus on lustful sin and self-punishment caused such torment after one hellfire sermon, that a parish member used the friar's chains to castigate himself.

The man cried, "I am the sinner who is ungrateful to God and ought to do penance" before collapsing. He soon died from the beating (M. Geiger, The Life and Times of Fray Junipero Serra, pg. 171-172). Serra's emphasis on physical extremism does explain the death rates in missions.

Spanish military eventually burned down Jalpan so the villagers were forced to join Serra's encampment. These campaigns were common.

"These peoples who had...been untamed and savage became civilized and instructed in religion," said Palou.

SERRA'S BRUTAL MISSIONS

Spain's colonization vastly changed the landscape of the Americas, especially the Pacific Coast. Spanish invaders' true mission was a replicated Spain within Alta California.

Mexicans presented a controllable underclass to landowners and religious figures alike (Native American Netroots). Junipero Serra married this exploitative ideal to California's first Franciscan missions. Catholic Online claims that "converts were instructed on the missionary's methods of agriculture, cattle raising, and arts and crafts".

A truthful depiction of Native missions would document the intense suffering of their forced residents. Missions benefited the colonizing Spanish forces while subjugating indigenous Californians. The mission network extends from San Diego to Sonoma (See missions list).

Jesuit missionaries had occupied Alta and Baja California until King Carlos III expelled them for Franciscan missions, and Spanish soldiers removed them by force (The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra, pg. 192).

After founding San Diego in 1769, Serra engaged a terrifying mobilization against California's tribes. His missions grew into hotbeds for disease, anti-Indigenous cultural genocide and rape (Valentin Lopez, Democracy Now).

Valentin Lopez is an Amah Matsun Tribal band member in fierce opposition to Serra's canonization by Pope Francis (see letter here).

Missionaries purposefully disrupted indigenous society by forbidding Natives' original belief system and moving them toward European-style settlements. Marriages changed as indigenous community elders and parents could no longer keep their social structure (Sexualities in History, pg. 172).

Repressed sexual ideals from Spanish missionaries attacked tribal (un)dress and clothing. Californian Native men wore nothing. And the women wore bark or animal skins for skirts (Sexualities in History, pg. 174).

Serra's imperialist vision cruelly targeted any gay, openly sexual or androgynous Native Americans. They faced hardships other Native people did not.

Palou recorded a traumatic capture of a Two-Spirit individual working among women. Several friars and one corporal guard publicly disrobed the person to determine their gender.

Once they discovered he was male, the Spanish disavowed his sexual identity and forced him to sweep the plaza nude for three days. He gained freedom by agreeing to the Franciscans' strict gender segregation.

Escape was the only option for reestablishing Native sexual identity (Palou's Life and Apostolic Labors of the Venerable Father Junipero of Junipero Serra).

Native American women and children lived in particularly horrifying conditions. Once families arrived, children were placed in strict boarding schools away from their parents-to wean the Native from them.

Sexual assault in the housing quarters occurred nightly. Friars along Californian coastlines noted the frequency of Spanish-indigenous rape. In 1772, Father Luis Jayme condemned "continuous outrages" upon Kumeyaay women near Mission San Diego. But the terror only began after that.

If women were caught trying to perform abortions, Franciscan priests would beat them for days on end, shackle them, shave their heads and humiliate them in church by forcing them to carry wooden child figurines. (The Guardian). Native women often entered mission life as a safer alternative to the Spanish-controlled terrain.

Prostitution skyrocketed in this violent culture. Serra complained of a ring within mission grounds "supplying women to as many soldiers as asked for them" (Writings of Junipero Serra, Vol. 3, pg. 415)

Uprisings were overwhelmingly common throughout the mission system. The high casualty rate didn't faze Father Junipero. After a rebelllion in Mission San Diego, he displayed chilling approval for any dead "Indians" involved.

"Thank God that that ground has now been watered (with blood): Now, certainly we will achieve the conversion of the Dieguenos." (A Crown of Thorns, pg. 173)

Corporal punishment equaled piety and godliness to Serra. Physical correction was rare in a Native society (Sexualities in History) at odds with Christian concepts of repentance.

Junipero implemented violence on Native Americans through racist religious views. He later sent a letter in 1779 to California Governor Felipe de Neve stating "that spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears as old as the conquest of these kingdoms." (An American Genocide, pg. 46)

Even the padres (priests) assigned to missions could not hide their disgust. Father Antonio De la Concepcion Horra wrote a telling letter to New Spain's viceroy in 1798-not even thirty years following Serra's first mission. (Saints and Citizens: Indigenous Histories...).

"The manner in which the Indians are treated is by far more cruel than anything I have ever read about. For any reason, however insignificant it may be, they are severely and cruelly whipped, placed in shackles, or put in stocks for days on end without even a drop of water."

Leaving the missions was a punishable offense, and runaways could be flogged or worse. Severe physical abuse occurred to missionized Natives for no justifiable reason.

Serra always rationalized their mistreatment. "Two or three whippings on different days...may serve for a warning, and be of spiritual benefit to all." (An American Genocide)

Within a relatively short time, missions became the agribusinesses and merchant hubs of their day.
 
Inland farms dominated the Californian landscape by the time other European settlers arrived (A Crown of Thorns, pg. 139). Friars amassed sickening wealth from Natives' labor.

Indians were routinely rounded up by military force and sent to missions along the coast to be 'Hispanicized'. This injustice lasted until 1833 (New book 'A Cross of Thorns' attacks historical image of California's missions).

DEATH TOLL

"It wasn’t unusual to have 1,200 Indians dying at one time" in those days (Valentin Lopez, Democracy Now).
 
By 1818, almost 90% of Native Californians had died as a result of the Spanish missionary system.
Source: R.H. Jackson, "The Dynamic of Indian Demographic Collapse in the San Francisco Bay Missions", American Indian Quarterly (Vol. 16, No. 2 1992)

Missions reflect a relentless cruelty toward the indigenous Californian people. In 1816, Mission San Miguel soldiers razed a local Yokut village (J. Sandos, Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions).

Mission San Juan Bautista's Ohlone Indian death toll numbered 19,421 in only 26 years. 90% of mission-born children died before age ten (The Dynamic of Indian Demographic Collapse). 150,000 Californian Natives, dead by Serra's system.

Church officials actively exploited and endangered the people they "saved". Serra is one of American Christianity's biggest offenders. His atrocities serve as a warning. Religious imperialism is a deadly force.


Further Reading:

Migrant Workers' Health Crisis

Return to Reality

An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe (Benjamin Madley, 2016)

The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Andrés Reséndez, 2016)

A Crown of Thorns: The Enslavement of California's Indians by the Spanish Missions (Elias Castillo, 2015)

New book attacks historical image of California's missions (Mercury News, 5-10-14)

Saints and Citizens: Indigenous Histories of Colonial Missions and Mexican California (Lisbeth Haas, 2013)

 "The Dynamic of Indian Demographic Collapse in the San Francisco Bay Missions" (Robert H. Jackson, American Indian Quarterly, 1992)

"The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra, O.F.M" (Maynard Geiger, California Historical Society Quarterly, 1960)