A Saint for our Time
Dr Pravin Thevathasan
He was born in the island of Majorca in Spain in 1713. He joined the Franciscans and became a leading academic. He could so easily have led a comfortable life, but he could not ignore his calling: to become a missionary to the native people of what was then known as New Spain in the American continent. Was he motivated by hatred or racism? It is an unusual kind of racist who wishes to spend his eternity in the company of blacks and native people! No, Serra was motivated by the greatest love possible after the love of God: zeal for the salvation of souls. He was not infected by heretical notions of anonymous Christianity. He possessed no vain hope that all will be saved.
Once he landed in the American continent, he traveled extraordinary distances on foot, a remarkable achievement given his infirmities. He founded mission churches along the Western coast, the first nine of the twenty one missions in what was to become California. When we think of San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles, we need to think of the great Serra. Given that these places have become cesspits of paganism, we need to invoke him and do so frequently.
Somewhat akin to the great Jesuit reductions of South America, Serra's missions had both spiritual and educational purposes. The native people were introduced to the latest developments in agriculture. Serra protected them from some ruthless Spanish soldiers. He walked all the way to Mexico to appeal to the viceroy on their behalf. Serra died in 1784, a missionary to the last.
It is a great pity that Serra's love for the native people did not pass on to the next generations. There is no doubt that they suffered greatly. Even when California was made a state in 1850, they were given no legal rights. They could be killed at random. Governor Leland Stanford had his own militia whose purpose was to hunt them down. Stanford University bears his name.
What is the difference between, say, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin? The former caricatured some Jewish people. He was a man of his age. The latter very unfortunately actively promoted racism in his work The Descent of Man. It is a shockingly bad book. The views of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, cannot be simply dismissed as typical of her time. She was a eugenicist and a racist. She was determined to eradicate the "negro population" by means of birth control. Planned Parenthood was later to expand its mandate to include abortion. To this day, African Americans have disproportionately high rates of abortion: Black Unborn Lives apparently do not matter.
When I think of Serra, I am frankly embarrassed by my own lack of evangelizing zeal. I am left embarrassed by the comments of a German missionary bishop who proudly proclaimed during the recent Amazon Synod that he had not baptized a single soul in decades. A touch of Rahneritis, no doubt.Serra explicitly stated his intention to give up his life for the native people he served. Do we have that same zeal?
St Junipero Serra, pray for us.