A statue of St. Junipero Serra at the Old Santa Barbara Mission in California has been decapitated and splashed with red paint. The bronze statue was vandalized overnight between Sunday and Monday.
An 18th century Spanish Franciscan, Serra is remembered in Catholic circles as the missionary who brought the faith to the West Coast of the Americas, having founded nine missions himself from San Francisco to San Diego, and he inspired the creation of twelve others after his death in 1784. He’s formally known as the “Apostle of California.”
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It is estimated that during his ministry, Serra baptized about 6,000 native people.
He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988, and canonized by Pope Francis during his trip to the United States in 2015.
When Pope Francis made Serra a saint, he said Serra “sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.”
Critics, however, associate Serra with human rights violations and the destruction of native cultures, among other things charging that natives at his missions who refused to embrace Christianity were often mistreated, including imprisoning them to prevent them from leaving.
It is the latest vandalization of of a Serra monument over the past few years. In 2015 – shortly before Serra was canonized – the Carmel Mission was attacked, leaving several statues toppled to the ground and a headstone vandalized with the painted words ‘Saint of Genocide.’
In 2016, the front door of the Santa Cruz Mission was splashed with red paint. In August of this year, a statue at the San Fernando Mission was painted red, and the word ‘Murder’ was written on it in white.
Santa Barbara police are investigating the latest act of vandalism, working with police departments involved in the other incidents.
The Santa Barbara Mission was founded in 1786, and is the only California mission to have remained under the care of the Franciscan order since its inception. It is currently a parish in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Mission is also home to papers of the entire California mission system, and is one of the oldest libraries in the state of California.
The vandalized statue of Serra has been removed from its location on the mission grounds, but Monica Orozco – the mission’s executive director – told local media she did not know if the statue would be repaired or replaced.