Few, if any of us, are unaware of the recent controversies surrounding the memorialization of Civil War leaders that has been center stage in newspapers and cable news stations recently. While this controversy has elicited strong feelings on both sides of the political and ideological spectrum, it has also raised questions concerning the overall question of publically memorializing figures that have been part of the historic fabric of our Nation and State.
With that in mind, from time to time, the question is asked: Why memorialize Fr. Junipero Serra, whose history has been perceived by some, to be tainted because of his cooperation with the European colonization enterprise that in many respects, did violence to the indigenous Native American peoples and culture?
While historical scholarship based on evidentiary examples culled from Fr. Serra’s letters and eye witness accounts, attest to Fr. Serra’s championing with mercy and compassion the plight of the Indians at the hands of often belligerent and hostile Spanish colonizers, nevertheless, Serra was a man of his times and certainly not freed from humanity’s weaknesses and imperfections.
The Catholic Church in the memorialization of her saints and heroes, maintains a realistic perspective. Saints are individuals, far from always being perfect, yet in their imperfections, strove to do God’s will, with courage, determination and humility. The use of memorial statues and images of these saints, has been a time honored symbolic way of ‘remembering’ these heroes in the faith. And in remembering them, particularly their steadfast willingness to let the light of God’s goodness and mercy overcome personal darkness and sin, they become exemplars for us, as we too, strive to live lives of integrity, goodness and holiness.
It is for this reason that we at Mission San Juan Capistrano, the seventh Mission founded by Fr. Serra, and at its heart, a Catholic institution that shares a vital part in the History of California, will continue to honor St. Junípero Serra in the manner and tradition of the Catholic Church, through appropriate imagery and statues. We do this, not to underscore his humanity that, like all of us, was prone to weakness and sin, but to honor and venerate his sanctity, as an instrument of God’s unfailing goodness, mercy and love.