VIDEO: Saint Junipero Serra and the Native American Controversy

At a Sept. 23 Mass in Washington, D.C., Pope Francis canonized Father Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan friar who helped bring Catholicism to California. In January, Francis fast-tracked the cause to have Serra declared a saint. This was the first canonization to take place in the U.S.

Serra is revered by many Catholics, especially Hispanic Catholics, for his evangelism efforts. But some Native Americans were upset by the canonization. They argued that many early missionaries brutally imposed their religion and helped to destroy indigenous cultures. During his visit to South America in July, Pope Francis apologized for the Church’s role in what he called “grave sins” committed against native people in the Americas. He did not specifically mention Serra.

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly managing editor Kim Lawton interviewed Rev. Ken Laverone, a Sacramento priest who co-led the effort to have Serra proclaimed a saint. She also interviewed two Native American Catholics, Rev. Henry Sands, executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office, and Sister Kateri Mitchell, executive director of the National Tekakwitha Conference, which honors Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. Watch excerpts of her interviews.

(Edited by Lauren Talley)