Just days after being elevated to sainthood by Pope Francis, vandals defaced a statue of St. Junipero Serra at the Carmel Mission in California where the missionary’s remains are buried.
The Associated Press is reporting on the vandalism which took place on Sept. 26 during the evening hours. Police say the vandals snuck onto the premises, toppled statues and defaced gravestones and signs with green and white paint.
One headstone had the words, “Saint of Genocide” scrawled across it.
Carmel Police Sergeant Luke Powell said the vandalism was focused primarily on the gravesites of interred Europeans, not the graves of Native Americans.
Serra is considered a controversial choice for sainthood in some quarters by those who believe he imposed Christianity on native populations, enslaving the people and exposing them to a myriad of diseases.
However, according to the Church, Serra’s is a rich and complicated history in which there is plenty of evidence that he defended the rights of Indians while establishing nearly a dozen missions in California in which he taught religion and farming. He is believed to have baptized more than 6,000 people into the faith and confirmed 5,000 in his lifetime.
During his canonization at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC last week, Pope Francis called him “the evangelizer of the West in the United States”.
The vandalism caused great pain in the Catholic community of the Carmel Mission.
“We are saddened to learn this morning of vandalism inside the entrance courtyard in front of the Basilica early this morning,” the Mission stated on their Facebook page on the day of the crime. “ . . . Pray that the people how did this take responsibility for their actions on this sacred property and that they seek reconciliation.”
Later, they thanked the many volunteers who cleaned up the mess in time for a scheduled celebration at the event the following day.
“Let us remember that we live in a loving community and let us not be discouraged by such things. As St. Serra said, ‘Always look forward, never back’.”
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