Keep Serra statue in U.S. Capitol Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, May. 14, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Just when Pope Francis plans to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra on September 23 during his visit to the United States this year, the California Senate voted April 12 to replace Serra’s statue in the U.S. Capitol with a statue of the astronaut Sally Ride.

The vote must still be approved by the California Assembly and by Governor Jerry Brown.

Statue in Capitol since 1934

Each state can place two statues of its important citizens in the U.S. Capitol. The statue of Serra has been in the Capitol since 1934. The other California statue is of former President Ronald Reagan.

Sally Ride was recommended for the honor because she is the first American woman in space and also because she would be the first California woman and known gay person in Statuary Hall, said California State Senator Ricardo Lara, who sponsored the resolution.

Blessed Serra had been placed in the Capitol because of his work as a missionary in California from 1769 to 1784. He established nine missions and evangelized the Native American people.

His missions such as San Diego and San Francisco went on to become major cities in California.

Some have criticized Serra for his treatment of Native Americans. Although the issue of Serra’s effect on Native Americans was not raised during floor debate in the California Senate, an analysis by legislative staff says, “Father Serra was ascetic and uncompromising in his zeal to convert Native Americans to Christianity and to make his missions self-sufficient.”

Defender of native people

However, Capuchin Father Vincenzo Criscuolo, an official in the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes, told reporters the 1,200-page positio or position paper outlining why Blessed Serra should be canonized relied particularly on 191 handwritten letters and reports by Blessed Serra about his life and his work in the California missions he founded.

In contrast with charges that Blessed Serra mistreated native peoples, he said the letters prove that Father Serra was an “intrepid defender of the rights of native people,” a position that often put him at odds with local Spanish military officers and government leaders.

The real atrocities against the native peoples of California came long after Blessed Serra’s death with the 19th-century California gold rush and the push for California’s incorporation into the United States. Thousands died of disease or were forcibly removed to less fertile land elsewhere, said Guzman Carriquiry, a Vatican official from Uruguay, in a Catholic News Service article. He praised the canonization of Blessed Serra, who would be the first Hispanic saint in the United States.

Asked about the California vote to replace the Serra statue, Carriquiry asked, “What could it mean in a state where many millions of Hispanics live and the great majority of them venerate Blessed Junipero Serra? They want to eliminate the only Hispanic — the only one — represented among the country’s notables” in the Capitol?

Moving the statue of Blessed Serra from the U.S. Capitol is wrong. If you agree, consider signing a petition on The petition will be sent to members of the California State Assembly. Let’s pray that the Serra statue will remain in the U.S. Capitol.