The Vatican is mounting a campaign to defend an 18th century Franciscan missionary who will be canonized by Pope Francis in the U.S. against protests from Native Americans who have compared his conversion of natives to genocide.Columbus is such a bad guy these days, but wasn't he, too, just "a man of his time"?
The Vatican is teaming up with the archdiocese of Los Angeles and the main U.S. seminary in Rome to host a daylong celebration May 2 at the North American College to honor the Rev. Junipero Serra, who introduced Christianity to much of California as he marched north with Spanish conquistadors. Francis will celebrate Mass in his honor.
For the church, Serra was a great evangelizer and a model for today's Hispanics. Many Native Americans, though, say Serra helped wipe out native populations, enslaved converts and spread disease as he brutally imposed Christianity on them. They have staged protests in California and there is a move to remove his statue from the U.S. Capitol.
Vatican officials on Monday defended Serra's record, saying it shows he worked in defense of Native Americans, often intervening to spare them from the more brutal colonial officials.
The Rev. Vincenzo Criscuolo, a Franciscan at the Vatican's saint-making office, said it was important to look at Serra as "a man of his time" who, like many others at the time used corporal punishment as an educational tool.
"It is not to be excluded, but it wasn't 'genocide,' it wasn't a death penalty," he told reporters.
I'll let the Native Americans and Hispanics battle this one out on their own. I'm not Catholic, (ethnic) Native American, or Hispanic, so I'll just watch this from the sidelines.