A statue of St. Junípero Serra in Mission Hills, CA was recently vandalized, with red paint put on the saint’s face and the word “murder” written down the front in white.
The photo began circulating around Facebook in the last few days, so CBS Los Angeles sent a reporter to the statue, who confirmed there was still some paint left on the statue. It appeared someone had tried unsuccessfully to clean it off after the photo had been taken.
St. Junípero Serra, an 18th century Franciscan who set up missions in California for the evangelization of Native Americans, was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015 amid controversy that the saint had aided the oppression of Native Americans.
Archaeology professor Reuben Mendoza of California State University, Monterrey Bay disputes the negative characterization of St. Junípero Serra: “When he died, many native peoples came to the mission for his burial. They openly wept. Others of his colleagues and even colonists, believed that he would be made a saint, because of the way he had lived his life, a self-effacing life of a martyr.”
This isn’t the first time the saint’s memory has inspired vandalism. In 2015, just a few days after Pope Francis had canonized Junípero Serra, the Carmel Mission where the saint is buried was vandalized, leaving statues toppled and grave stones defaced.
The vandalism comes amid a debate throughout the United States of what to do with statues of historical figures who supported immoral causes, particularly the southern Confederacy. A local dispute about relocating a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, VA inspired a neo-Nazi rally last weekend which in turn attracted Antifa counter-protesters. Their violent clash turned deadly when a neo-Nazi drove a car through a crowd of counter-protesters. Many Catholic leaders, clergy and lay, condemned the neo-Nazi rally, both for its violence and message of racism.
[See also: Why We Need St. Junípero Serra]