Once again, we witness with sadness the tearing down of the statue of another Hispanic figure from the USA, in this case the one of Father Junípero Serra. This Spanish Franciscan, far from being a “genocide” or a “racist”, represented the opposite throughout his life. That is why we wanted to remember who this Majorcan was and what he did to become the first Hispanic saint in the United States.
Junipero was born in November 24, 1713 in Petra, Mallorca, in a humble family who named him Miguel José. After his first studies he decided to continue his ecclesiastical career and took his religious vows on September 15, 1731, becoming Junipero.
In spite of being a distinguished professor he decided to follow his missionary vocation and in 1749 he traveled to the “Colegio de Misionaros de San Fernando” in the capital of Mexico, from where he traveled to “Sierra Gorda”, a land where he evangelized the native population for more than 8 years.
In 1769, together with Gaspar de Portolá, he led the Holy Expedition for the settlement of Spain in Upper California. There, as we will see, he developed a work of incessant evangelization, always at the service of the native populations.
Thus, his work as a missionary led him to found 9 of the 21 missions of Spain in California, such as the one in San Diego de Alcalá, which gives its name to the present city of San Diego. In these missions he served the native community, evangelizing the local populations and providing them with jobs, education and food. He died in August 28, 1784 in the mission of San Carlos Borromeo, near Monterrey.
As Peter M. Escalante, the present pastor of the Basilica Mission of San Diego de Alcalá, recalls, “Father Serra treated the natives who came to the mission like a father to his children”. Such was his dedication that Pope Francis canonized him, thus becoming the first Hispanic saint in the United States. The Pope stated that father Serra “sought to defend the dignity of the indigenous people he evangelized.”
This new attack on his figure lacks historical rigor. It’s also an attack on the Hispanic legacy of the United States and California, which must be respected and cherished, as Junipero himself represented in his time of dedication and service to the native population.