Letter to Pope


Letter to Pope

Your Holiness:

I am Andrew Salas the Tribal Chairman of the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians -  Kizh (Kit’c) Nation.  Our prehistoric Tribal Territory centered at Mission San Gabriel and extending over the greater Los Angeles Basin. This is in regards to your giving recognition or Sainthood to Father Juniperro Serra.

We along with the entire Native community of California, strongly oppose such act of recognition.

Does the church not know the past history and genocide that provides the foundation of the California mission system? There is a horrific history of the Missions of California that was headed by Father Serra.  I am writing to ask you to strongly consider all the facts of the life and actions of this man.   To the Natives of California he is considered a common murderer.  In fact, we often equate oppression, abuse, torture, and death with his image.  His actions and the means he used to achieve them do not follow the ideals of Christianity for many reasons.

The missions were prisons & death camps for my people. Under Serra’s orders, they were jailed at night, starved, tortured and raped.  By day, they were a source of slave labor to erect some of the most beautiful architecture in this State, however, they were merely a façade to their disease infested death camps.   Native women often would smother their newly born babies that were a result of rape.  What desperation they must have felt to commit such an act.  Native children’s life expectancy often was only ten years in the mission system.

The rapist lifestyle that the Spanish mission soldiers enjoyed in California enraged the native men and women, which led to their few instances of violent resistance.  In 1772, immediately after Spaniards established the mission, a soldier raped the local Indian chief's wife. The chief gathered some warriors and confronted the rapist.  The rapist’s response was to kill the chief with his musket.  The Spanish corporal in charge had the chief's head cut off and mounted on a pole at the mission, as a lesson to the natives. After that episode, gangs of mission soldiers, emboldened by the mission's approval of rape and murder, marauded through the countryside each morning, hunting for native women.  When they found them, they lassoed them like cattle and raped them on the spot.  Resisting native men were shot with muskets. That was the "civilization" that Serra brought to California.  The most common form of native resistance was flight.  Some escaped numerous times and even chopped off parts of their bodies to escape their shackles.

Priestly concern for the natives' earthly welfare was practically nowhere in evidence.  The game was baptizing them before they died in captivity.  The priests often tried to become martyrs. Since martyrdom was the coveted way for a priest to die and the first step to sainthood, Serra eagerly sought opportunities to martyr himself but never found one, mainly because the natives were not violent.

Serra was not very kind toward the natives that he was "saving." When some of his captive natives escaped and took supplies to aid their flight, Serra had to be restrained by his fellow priests from hanging them. Serra shouted that "such a race of people deserved to be put to the knife." Serra's legacy was the death of at least half of California's native population, and a much greater extermination rate in mission country, of around 90%.

Why, then, would the Catholic Church even consider  Father Serra to be a candidate for Sainthood?  There is strong documented records attesting to the treatment of my people in the name of religion.  Foundations of Christianity include acceptance, forgiveness, respect, unselfishness and grace.  The legacy this man left behind was opposite of these ideals.  We remember instead loss – not only the physical loss from disease and death but also of spiritual loss – the loss of our religion, our way of life, our dignity, our innocence…our culture. We ask of you to strongly consider our perspective along with the facts of many historians when considering this man for Sainthood. 

Andy Salas, Chairman,

Los Indios de San Gabriel, Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians, Kizh (Kit’c) Nation

As Indigenous Californians, we respectfully ask his Holiness to abandon his plans to declare Junipero Serra a Saint. Pope Francis has indicated that he "Values Human Life" yet our people were slaughtered like animals. What of their lives and souls? This plan will not welcome indigenous people back to the Catholic Church, or honor our ancestors, rather, it will re-awaken a very dark, and brutal time in the history of the Catholic Church and Civilization.

The passage of time has not made the reality of genocide of Indigenous Californians go away, nor has it made the Mastermind of the brutal Mission system a Saint.

That's why I created a petition to His Holiness, Pope Francis, which says:

"Pope Francis is coming to Washington, D.C., to canonize Junipero Serra as a Saint. It is imperative he is enlightened to understand that Father Serra was responsible for the deception, exploitation, oppression, enslavement and genocide of thousands of Indigenous Californians, ultimately resulting in the largest ethnic cleansing in North America.

The reality of the California Mission system has yet to be accurately taught in California schools or recognized by the Catholic Church. Elementary school children tour mission grounds and are taught that native people were "docile and child like savage pagans, saved by the kind and benevolent padres". In reality, the human remains of thousands of indigenous people are scattered beneath the grounds of the Missions that were built by Indian slaves as garrisons for the church and Spanish crown. Indigenous people died of rape, beatings and diseases introduced by the Spanish conquistadors in California. Spanish Priests di d little to recognize indigenous people as humans and did not come to their rescue when women were raped by soldiers and settlers. With an over 90% indigenous mortality rate, Serra hardly "saved many souls".

Check out this article in today's L.A. Times. It brings up one of my

biggest contentions with the Serra canonization:  the  $$$ it took

to make him a saint. check out the grafs where it says the Vatican has been misspending the funds going to the congregation for saints, especially to "postulators"  (Ken Laverone, OFM?) -- those working for the canonizations--to the tune of millions of dollars. I'd like to know how much was spent on the Serra canonization.  Actually the process began in 1934--so go figure.  And who threw in the final bucks to finance the clerical wingding in Washington D.C.?