Like all people of good will, I was appalled to learn the news.
The Marin Museum of the American Indian received mailed threats that included the words “smallpox” and “anthrax” on the envelopes, and also received racist emails referring to the Junipero Serra statue in Mission San Rafael. This is sad, outrageous and also ignorant.
As Sacheen Littlefeather, a Marin resident who chairs the local Kateri Tekakwitha Prayer Circle, pointed out: No federally recognized Native American Indians residing in Marin County participated in the destruction of the statue.
“It’s deadly stuff and the genocide runs very, very deep, and people’s fear of that runs very, very deep,” museum director Doug Fryday told the Marin Independent Journal in the article published Nov. 16.
Serra would never have countenanced his name being misused in this way to further this kind of hatred. He stood for sacrifice, reconciliation, service and love, to the point of heroic virtue, which is why Pope Francis made him a saint.
But we do not even have to agree on Serra’s legacy to understand that threats of violence cannot lead to a civilization of love or peace. Only if we believe, with Serra, that every human being has equal dignity will we be able to move beyond past injustices to a better, fairer and more compassionate future.
Our nation’s founders called it “self-evident” that “all men are created equal,” before declaring all people are “endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.” From America’s beginning, then, we recognized that our faith in equality is immeasurably strengthened by faith of another kind: that it is God himself who grants us this equal human dignity.
Sadly, though, it is a faith we often lose sight of. Leland Stanford was an abolitionist, who helped build the first transcontinental railroad, and also founded the great university that bears his name. He also, as governor of California, endorsed using taxpayer funds to pay a special corps of “California volunteers” to exterminate Indians. As is well known, our Founding Fathers who fought to establish this great republic, owned slaves – even George Washington himself, who waited only until his death to free them.
But 66 years later, some 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War meant to eradicate this sin in every state of the union. Our history is filled with both lights and shadows.
Blaming Catholics such as Serra for enslaving Indians is fundamentally ignorant. Almost 250 years before the Declaration of Independence, Pope Paul III specifically forbade the Spanish colonists in America to enslave the Indigineous people. Why? Because they are human beings, and human beings have rights, given by God.
“The said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no mean to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ … nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect,” the Pope decreed in “Sublimus Deus” in 1537.
An ocean away, the Spanish colonists often ignored what our Catholic faith teaches by abusing Indigenous people.
According to archaeological research published by Ruben Mendoza, a professor at Cal State Monterey Bay who half Yaqui Indian, the systemic genocide did not take place until after the Franciscan missions founded by Serra were dismantled, the Spanish government withdrew, and the Americans took control of California.
On behalf of Catholics in Marin County and the rest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, I repudiate these hateful words and thoughts, and pray that the writer (and all perpetrators of bigotry) repent and find healing.
We send our support and heartfelt sympathy to the Marin Museum of the American Indian, and all Indigenous people living in Marin County who have been unjustly attacked for this crime, one in which they had no part.
I heartily endorse Fryday’s idea of listening sessions together to defuse any tensions and misconceptions that remain, and we offer to work with him and California Indians towards the important goals of civility, equal dignity, and harmony.
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone leads the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, serving Marin, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.