Sainthood for Junipero Serra sparks controversy

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Pope Francis will preside Wednesday over a mass of canonization for Junipero Serra, the man known for establishing missions throughout California. (KABC)

Pope Francis will preside Wednesday over a mass of canonization for Junipero Serra, the man known for establishing missions throughout California.

However, not everyone is happy to see the Franciscan friar become a saint.

PHOTOS: Pope Francis arrives in Washington, D.C.


"We were in peace and harmony when it was abundant and healthy and a paradise, and our world changed forever," said Mati Waiya, a ceremonial elder with the Chumash people.

I met Waiya in a traditional hut he built himself in Malibu, where he told me the Chumash side of the Serra story.

"Junipero Serra led the charge. He brought the military with him so he could succeed in his role," said Waiya. "Coming with weapons in one hand and a Bible in the other. What gives them the right?"

Waiya says the Serra story shared in the Catholic Church and in our school classrooms is the conqueror's version, not the perspective of those the Spanish victimized. He says Native Americans were beaten, enslaved and killed by the thousands under Serra.

"The fear, the cries of the people as they were being slaughtered or flogged, or the mission bell to remind them to come and work is like a whip to a slave," said Waiya.

Many historians admit there is a dark side to the story of the Spanish settling in California and the resulting deaths of thousands of Native Americans, but there's great debate over Serra's role.

MORE: Schedule of events


At the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., you'll find a statue of Serra at the National Statuary Hall. Inside one room, each state chooses the statue that best represents them. The likeness of Serra has been representing California since 1931, but that may change.

Meantime, Waiya says there's an insincerity of Pope Francis ignoring the controversy and going through with the canonization.

"To canonize Junipero Serra will make more money for the Catholic Church," said Waiya. "Maybe it will bring more members of the Latino or Hispanic community because they're losing members."

The controversy is also the reason Waiya believes the pope chose not to come to the West Coast.

"Why didn't he come to California? Why is he in Washington?" said Waiya. "Come here. Come here where you are praising this man Junipero Serra. Come here and watch the people that come out to oppose this lie."

Related Topics:
religionpopepope francissaintsu.s. & worldWashington D.C.San Juan CapistranoOrange County
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