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At Carmel Mission Serra's Sainthood Celebrated and Rebuked

As Pope Francis canonized Father Junipero Serra at a mass in Washington D.C., hundreds gathered at the Carmel Mission. Many came to honor the founder of the California mission system, but some were there to rebuke a man the church now calls a Saint. 

Church bells drew hundreds of people into the Basilica at Carmel Mission for a noon mass held just before Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra.

Jon Stuefloten stood near the door greeting people.  He was baptized here as a young boy right on Father Serra’s grave at the altar.  He says the canonization is a thrill for lifelong members of this parish.

“We’ve always revered the work he’s done in bringing the word to North America in times that were very tough and it’s an honor for us to have this canonization happen,” said Stuefloten.

Juni Ranillo of San Francisco made custom shirts for his family.  The front of the shirts say “Saint Junipero Serra”, and on the back is a phrase attributed to Serra, “Always go forward.  Never turn back”.

“Saint Junipero Serra is my idol.  He’s been an inspiration to me and to my family to move forward. Whatever the hardships that you have in life, whatever you are going through right now.  Just move forward and do good.  Love one another spread the message of Jesus,” said Ranillo.

Serra came from Spain in the late 1700s to colonize California where he founded nine of the twenty one missions.  In the process, Serra converted thousands of Native Americans.  They helped build the missions and some suffered abuse.   It’s why Chris Lorenc walked out of the church just as the mass was starting to be part of a different ceremony.

“To join my Esselen, Salinan, Rumsen and other native ones in that cemetery.  To grieve and protest validating a violent and colonist distortion of how to preach the gospel,” said Lorenc.

The cemetery next to the Basilica has symbolic graves, marked by wooden crosses and abalone shells, for the indigenous people buried there and elsewhere.  It’s also where Native Americans and others gathered to host ceremonies of their own Wednesday.

“You can participate if you are against the canonization.  If you are for the canonization, we don’t want that negativity here,” said Louise Miranda Ramirez as the first ceremony was getting ready to start.

Miranda Ramirez is the Tribal Chairwoman of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation. She’s also a Catholic and said this is a test of her faith.  She sees Serra as responsible for enslaving her ancestors and removing their culture.

“It’s just very, very painful because we carry our ancestors within us. And were listening to what they need.  So in listening to them with the signs that we get we thought it would be completely necessary to stand up against the canonization,” said Miranda Ramirez

Father Peter Crivello, Vicar General of the Diocese of Monterey, paints a different picture of Serra: one where thousands of natives mourned his death.

“They considered him to be an affectionate person with them.  Someone who cared for them.   Someone they interacted with.  So while those abuses may have been part of the mission system, we can’t attribute them specifically to Father Serra,” said Crivello.

The Carmel Mission will continue with its celebration of Saint Junipero Serra with a special mass this Sunday at 11:00am.  It’s followed by a celebration in the courtyard that continues until 4:00pm.

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