News Revelations

Saint’s statue defaced amid Confederate monuments debate

A vandalized statue of Father Junipero Serra in California. Photo from Twitter

(RNS) — As the battle over Confederate monuments suggests, one person’s saint is another person’s sinner.

And over the weekend that controversy reached beyond the South to California, where a statue of a Catholic saint, the Rev. Junipero Serra, was vandalized in Los Angeles.

Images appeared on social media showing the word “murder” smeared in white paint on a statue of the 18th-century Franciscan priest who led the Catholic Church’s missionary efforts among Native Americans on the West Coast.

Traces of red paint and a swastika were also found on the statue, which sits in a park across from Mission San Fernando in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles.

Serra, who is credited with spreading the Catholic faith across what is now California, was canonized by Pope Francis on his 2015 trip to the U.S.

But critics say the priest was part of an imperial conquest that beat and enslaved Native Americans, raped their women and destroyed their culture by forcing them to abandon their traditional language, diet, dress and other customs and rites.

“I think the statue should come down from this park, and then put some appreciation to the Native people that live here,” Cristian Ramirez, a local man who came to see the vandalized statue, told CBS Los Angeles. “We don’t want this violent history to be praised in our community.”

Serra was born in Spain in 1713. He came to the Americas in 1749, and in 1769 he founded the first of what would become 21 missions along the California coast.

Native Americans brought into the mission to be evangelized were not allowed to leave the grounds. Many labored for no pay. There is evidence of beatings, imprisonment and other abuse at the hands of the missionaries. By the time Serra died in 1784, he is reputed to have confirmed 5,300 people as Catholics, most of them Native Americans.

Serra’s defenders argue that it’s not fair to judge him by 21st-century standards. They believe he was a moderating influence on his fellow Spaniards and frequently pleaded for more merciful treatment for the Native Americans under their control.

Monuments associated with Serra have been vandalized before. Within days of his elevation to sainthood in 2015, the historic mission in Carmel, Calif., was vandalized and gravestones were toppled. Serra’s remains are buried at the Carmel Mission, which was founded in 1770.

Also in 2015, vandals spread red paint on the door of Mission Santa Cruz.

The vandalized Los Angeles statue was restored over the weekend.


About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • Yup, they will most definitely come for the saints (the church in actuality).

    When will people wake up, or at least step back and think for themselves. So removing statues today from slavery and racism of over 100yrs is accomplishing what now? Taking down these statues does nothing to address racism, and the church will be next. They will especially go after evangelicals believing they are the one still harboring wide spread racism, and then they will come for the catholics who have their own history of abuses against people including slavery.

    So when are people going to start asking what this social manifestation is trying to accomplish, are they going about it in the most productive ways, do they have goals, will these tactics produce even one racist convert, or are people just taking someones word for all this and just going with the flow?

  • If people would concentrate on the present, and ask themselves, “What can I do to promote a reset of the themes that drive America in a more affirmative way?” We would then be able to move forward rather than obsessing about a past that is beyond our reach. Constructive engagement beats useless vandalism every time.

  • There has been a wave of vandalism of Confederate statues and monuments since Charlottesville. This is vigilante justice and needs to be condemned. If they are to be removed it must be done legally.

  • The Catholic missionaries are responsible for converting thousands of indigenous or native people not only in North America but also in South America, Canada, Africa, western India and in eastern China. Those days, every missionary thought it was his bounden duty to bring the ‘pagans’ to the ‘true Church’. They used not only the armies of the colonizing nations but also used its own human resources as soldiers to kill, maim or brutalize and conquer the local population. Conversion by force has never been a good way to dominate the world. Today, while Christianity, particularly Catholicism, is using more subtler methods such as providing education, food and medical treatment to bring people to the ‘true faith,’ there are religions like Islam that are encouraging its more radical elements to forcibly convert people or bring them to their knees. It is very sad and unfortunate that in the 21st Century religion is still being seen as an instrument of ideological, economic and religious domination. People of the world must aspire and strive to make the entire planet a place of peace, goodwill, harmony and scientific advancement by bringing modern and scientific education and literacy to every soul in the world instead of encouraging and promoting the vested interests of any particular religion.

  • There are multiple impacts from a story. Many of these memorials found in places of honor do not tell the complete story, but a sanitized version. Remove the statues from places of honor to a museum. Provide more information on the impact of the individual or movement to give the observer a better understanding of the era and the totality of a person’s action. In the current settings, the observer gets only a sanitized story.

    I have always found confederate symbols offensive as an American and a Northerner. Just as a descendant of a victim of the Fascists would find a swastika or memorial to Hitler offensive.

  • Junipero Serra was a psychopath who abused Native Americans so badly that even the Spanish civil governor was appalled. His statue in the Capital’s statuary hall should be removed and replaced by that of Rev Starr King, the Unitarian minister credited with keeping California in the Union during the Civil War. Serra is an embarrassment to California and to the Catholic Church. Further, Serra never even lived in the United States.

  • Angry Arminian Mob Pulls Down Statue Of John Calvin

    This tearing down of statues is not exclusive to confederate statues. See the link above. Arminian students pulled down a statue of John Calvin. Now that’s an atrocity! on the same level as when the taliban tore down the buddha statues in Afganistan several years ago. It’s an outrage I say, an OUTRAGE! Shame on them! Shame, shame, shame! (Tee hee…)

  • the left will be gone soon and it’s not gonna be pretty…..americans hate sites like RCP, the socialist media/ press/ congress/ hollywood and will soon make them pay the price for their treachery and treason. by the way kids….rcp is blocking all conservative comments now. they will also pay the price.

  • When I first saw it (on FB) I thought “I swan…” but then I saw the source and knew it was satire.

  • If we allow the Present to sit in judgment of the Past,
    the Future will be lost.” — Sir Winston Churchill