MercuryNews.com–Pope Francis has announced that he will canonize Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra when he visits the United States in late summer. How does that reconcile with a papal decision made 15 years ago when Pope John Paul II apologized for 2,000 years of violence by the Roman Catholic Church against indigenous peoples, Jews, heretics, women and gypsies? In the case of California’s missions, the coastal Indians paid a high price for their interaction with the church. Serra, who arrived in 1769, created a harsh and unforgiving regimen that would ultimately claim the lives of 62,000 Indians and devastate their civilization, including the extinction of a number of small tribes.
I have spent the past seven years researching life at the missions through historical documents at Santa Barbara Mission Historical Archives, Mexico’s National Archives in Mexico City and numerous university libraries. I have studied images of documents written in Serra’s hand and little-known letters and reports from Serra and other Franciscans, documents from Spanish governors and military leaders, eyewitness accounts from travelers as well as academic research. The truth is painful and not widely understood.