Appleton, WI

July 1: Day by Day with Father Bill


Recently statues of St Junipero Serra were toppled in California during the demonstrations calling for greater equality among our minority sisters and brothers. Their destruction points to the fact that the ministry of the Spanish missionary priest, Fr Serra, has always raised questions in the minds of many people. During the colonization of North and South America, Africa and the Far East, missionaries from white Europe were not always respectful of the cultures of the native peoples. The Italian Jesuit missionary priest, Fr Matteo Ricci, was notable for his ministry among the Chinese people in the seventeenth century. Rather than imposing European white culture upon them, Fr Ricci entered into the culture of the people. He dressed in Chinese clothing. He learned to speak and write Chinese. He studied with genuine interest the Chinese culture. To bring the beauty of the Gospel into the beauty of the native culture is the proper way to share the Good News! This is called inculturation and is so important.

I am not an expert on Fr Serra but he may have been influenced a bit by the arrogance of the Spanish government which espoused a cultural imperialism. I know, though, that Fr Serra did his best to minimize the interaction between the Native Americans and the Spanish conquistadores. Their presidios (military bases, if you will) needed to be constructed at quite a distance from Fr Serra’s mission communities.

I realize that the toppling of statues is controversial, as in the case of Fr Serra. I think we need to understand better what happened in our history so that it doesn’t happen again. Fr Serra was not perfect, but all in all, he brought the compassionate Jesus to our Native American sisters and brothers. His statue does stand in the US Capitol Rotunda, at least for the moment.

As a nation, we need to have more discussion about the injustices of our past so as to move forward in a better way. Toppling a statue without having a discussion may not move us forward.

St Father Junipero Serra, pray for us.

Father Bill+