CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, Calif. — A group of teenagers huddled at the foot of a statue of Junípero Serra at the Carmel Mission on Monday, there to pay homage to the Spaniard who helped colonize California in the 18th century. Only a day earlier, vandals had toppled the six-foot figure and doused it with paint, writing “saint of genocide” on a nearby triangle of stone. But now the statue was upright and scrubbed clean for visitors.
Catholic Church officials said the vandalism was the first of its kind at the mission, timed to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, during which he elevated Father Serra to sainthood at a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The attack also came just hours before parishioners planned to honor Father Serra, a revered former Carmel resident whose celebrity attracts thousands of tourists each year to this quiet hamlet along Monterey Bay.
The police continue to investigate what they have called a hate crime. And the episode threatens to inflame a decades-old wound between the Roman Catholic Church and Native Americans who contend that Father Serra was more oppressor than saint. Historians agree that he forced Native Americans to abandon their tribal culture and convert to Christianity, and that he had them whipped and imprisoned and sometimes worked or tortured to death.