Tuesday, October 23 , 2018, 3:08 am | Fog/Mist 56º


Drive to Declare Father Junípero Serra a Saint Has a Santa Barbara Connection

Pope Francis’ decision to canonize the California missionary is not universally acclaimed but supporters point to ‘context of the times’

Sainthood could soon be added to the résumé of Father Junípero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan friar credited with bringing Catholicism to California by establishing nine missions between San Diego and San Francisco.

Pope Francis has alluded to the possibility of granting the high honor, and the leader of the Roman Catholic Church could canonize Serra during a visit to the United States in September.

Although rumors initially indicated the pope would recognize Serra in California, it seems he plans to only visit New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., according to Fr. Ken Laverone, a Sacramento pastor who has championed the cause of Serra’s sainthood for more than a decade.

But even as the pope prepares to consider canonization, Serra’s critics are speaking out against elevating the historical status of a man they say drove out thousands of native Indians in his quest to spread Christianity.

As head of the order in California, Serra baptized thousands of Indians before he died in 1784 at age 71.

Ten years ago, the Vatican appointed Laverone, provincial vicar of Santa Barbara Province, to be an advocate for Serra, second in the task only to the Rev. John Vaughn, a Franciscan priest at the Santa Barbara Mission.

Vaughn has been ill as of late, so Laverone has become Serra’s No. 1 champion.

Laverone described Serra as a man who left a “cushy” job as a professor in Spain to bring the gospel to the New World, starting first in Mexico and working his way north.

He established nine missions in California: San Diego de AlcaláSan Antonio de Padua in Jolon, San Gabriel ArcángelSan Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Juan CapistranoSan Francisco de Asís, Santa Clara de AsísSan Buenaventura and San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel, where he had a headquarters and where he is buried.

Serra was present when El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara was founded in 1782, but the Santa Barbara Mission was established after his death in 1786 as the 10th California mission.

“He was strongly outspoken about the treatment of Indians by the Spanish government,” Laverone said. “A lot of the detractors blame Serra himself for what happened. As a father to these people, maybe (he was) a harsh father sometimes, because he grew up with a harsh father.

“It’s hard to judge the actions of people from a 21st-century perspective. We have to put it into the context of the times.”

Serra suffered great hardship and battled serious health issues of his own, Laverone said, and first-person accounts described him as having a great deal of respect for every human being.

While some tribes have come out against Serra’s recognition, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians did not wish to comment on the topic, a tribal spokesperson said.

Pope Francis believes so much in Serra’s work that Laverone said he is waiving a key requirement of sainthood — performing two miracles.

Serra was beatified in 1988 after his first miracle of healing a woman with Lupus was verified. Laverone said “beatification” typically means a person is one step away from sainthood.

The Franciscan friar also has quite a religious following, another requirement.

“This is an honor the church is bestowing on him — that’s the primary focus,” Laverone said. “The church views him as someone who has a great heroic virtue. In the minds of some people, especially the church in California, he’s the one who’s responsible for the church in California.”

Laverone said the pope could officially consider Serra for sainthood as early as February.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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