Melancholy washed over me when I first read that Coven James Ramos would wear Assembly Bill 338, a bill to permanently remove a statue of the Father Junípero Serra of Capitol Park and replace the site dedicated to it with a memorial honoring the regional indigenous tribes of Sacramento.
Last year, after iconoclasts degraded the Serra site and the state removed its statue from Capitol Park, I began praying a rosary there on Friday morning with friends from several Catholic parishes. from the Sacramento area.
The joy and peace I feel each time after our conclusion put a smile on my face that lasts the rest of the day. I am invigorated. Biting cold, we got it; energy is always available. Roaring leaf blowers, howling in dissonance as we pray in unity, that too; their moaning has now become something of a feature and not a flaw. The place exudes joy and peace.
Hence the sadness I feel at the thought of removing Serra from Capitol Park. I think the evils attributed to him and the Franciscan missionary movement in California in the 18th century are terribly out of place. Of course, he was not perfect and his evangelistic methods were harsh when judged by today’s standards, but overall he and the missions were a force for good.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and through the Dark Ages, church and state were closely linked. Then, in medieval times, the common law began to take shape. Western civilization separates jurisdictions; some types of crimes are beginning to be tried in courts of monarchs while others have been heard in courts presided over by bishops. This bifurcation led to our enlightened constitutional ideal of separation between Church and State.
As the era of imperialism galloped through the 18th century full of its mercantilist fury, Serra walked barefoot along the California coast dedicating her ministry to the tutelage of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Yes, the Spanish military was aware of his ministry and Serra sometimes collaborated with soldiers, but his life’s work was saving the indigenous peoples from a devastating imperialist culture.
Moreover, if it was not the southern Spaniards who invaded the indigenous peoples of California, it was the British from the east or the Russians from the north. Without Serra, how many Indigenous people would have died bloody and painful deaths while trying to resist an inexorable imperialist force?
God knows the Roman Catholic Church is not perfect. The melancholy I feel when I think of the statue of Serra is the melody of a single minor chord versus the tragic opera of emotions that resonate within when I think of our clergy devilishly abusing the innocent souls that he swore to protect.
Nonetheless, the Catholic Church is infinitely large, making room for saints and sinners. While not infinite, California is also vast. If you want, you can make room for all kinds.
God help us if we always distance ourselves from each other, tearing apart our common foundations, fearing each other instead of being curious and approaching them with an open heart. God help us if we cannot laugh at ourselves and find friendship among the critics. God help us recognize the greatness of California, the most populous state in the Union with an abundance of wise souls willing to work for the common good.
I applaud the provisions of AB 338 for the construction of monuments in honor of the indigenous peoples of California. In Catholic social teaching there is a convenient “both / and” provision as opposed to a limiting “one or the other” provision. The Indigenous Peoples and Serra Memorials can reside together in Capitol Park, and there will still be plenty of room to honor others.
John Fairbanks, parishioner of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Sacramento, is the publisher and editor of the Capitol Morning Report. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public service journalism firm committed to explaining how the California Capitol works and its importance