In May 2014, during is visit to Israel, Pope Francis assured the Jewish world that the beatification of Pope Pius XII would not move forward because, “There’s still no miracle,” he said. “If there are no miracles, it can’t go forward. It’s blocked there.” The AP report by Nicole Winfield was published in Times of Israel citing that the World War II-era pope was “accused by some Jews of not speaking out enough against the Holocaust.”
Not so for Junipero Serra, the friar who established the mission system across California which carried out the brutalization and genocide of indigenous tribes along the US west coast in the 1700s.
The sainting of Serra has been a long time coming, but Pope Francis has fast-tracked the move. The Catholic publication Our Sunday Visitor reported January 21, 2015:
The cause for his canonization was first introduced in 1934. Pope John Paul II declared Father Serra “venerable” in 1985. Three years later, the pontiff accepted a miracle worked through Father Serra’s intercession and beatified him. Another miracle was needed to declare him a saint, but, to the surprise of many, Pope Francis waived the requirement due to the widespread acknowledgement that the priest had lived an exemplary life.
In 1987, “Serra’s remains were exhumed from a crypt below the Carmel Mission Basilica as part of a process called ‘canonical recognition,’ and several bone fragments were removed,” reported Mark I. Pinsky for the Los Angeles Times. Yet, unmarked mass graves of indigenous peoples remain beneath numerous of the California missions that Serra founded. Serra’s legacy is of forced conversions, institutional abuse, slavery and cultural termination.
Serra’s campaign to convert the indigenous peoples in the New World to Catholicism was an extension of the Spanish Inquisition, the same war on humanity under which thousands of Jewish conversos were put on trial, imprisoned, or burned at the stake.
Native American communities today are protesting Pope Francis’ move to canonize Serra, scheduled to take place in Washington, DC on Wednesday September 23, 2015 which falls on Yom Kippur 5776. The only other fitting time of the year for making a saint out of a leader of The Inquisition would be Tisha B’av or the three weeks preceding. In fact, we count the expulsion of Jews from Spain, which took place the 9th day of the month of Av in the year 1492, as part of the list of grave misfortunes which befell us on that day in the Hebrew calendar.
We like to think this Pope is progressive, green and peace-loving, and that he marks a new era in Catholicism and world history. But his move to celebrate and honor genocidist Junipero Serra by overriding due process for canonization that requires another miracle puts Pope Francis’ word to the Jewish people on not beatifying Pope Pius XII on shaky ground.
Jewish opposition to the canonization of Junipero Serra is a righteous show of solidarity with the indigenous peoples of the Americas and an expression of our own self determination.