While in San Diego I visited California’s first mission – the Mission of San Diego de Alcalá. It was not my first time visiting the mission. Seventeen or so years ago I served as best man there for my friend’s wedding in the mission’s historic chapel.
The Mission of San Diego de Alcalá was founded in 1769 by a Spanish missionary by the name of Junípero Serra. If that name sounds familiar to you, there’s a good reason. Serra was canonized a saint by Pope Francis during the Pope’s visit to our country in September. He was the first saint canonized on American soil.
You also might remember all of the controversy that surrounded Junípero Serra’s canonization. There are many people who revere Serra as a saint – a heroic and tireless evangelist who surrendered everything, traveling approximately 24,000 miles, and much of it on foot, to preach the gospel and bring the sacraments to the native people. Yet there are other people who say that Serra was a shameless perpetrator of an oppressive colonialism that resulted in cruelty and the deaths of tens of thousands of the natives.
Why would Pope Francis canonize such a controversial figure? Some claim the Pope, in elevating Serra, opened old wounds and resurfaced bitter memories of the harsh treatment of Native Americans.
I suspect Pope Francis would be the first to admit that the legacy of Junípero Serra and the issue of the European colonialization of America is complicated. But maybe that’s the point. It’s complicated.
So many issues with which the world and the Church are wrestling today are deeply complicated. So many people fail to appreciate the complexity of life issues and choose instead to feed destructive forces of fury, hatred, violence, and divisive tirades. Pope Francis always points us to a more sensible approach – one that is actually helpful and inspires hope.
In his homily at the canonization Mass Pope Francis quoted the motto which inspired Junípero Serra’s life: Siempre adelante! It’s Spanish for “Always forward”! Holding on to bitterness and old wounds will drag us backwards. Accentuate the good. Find something that inspires and gives hope and you will be spirited forward.
Maybe it’s not that complicated. St. Junípero Serra, pray for us,