SAN FRANCISCO — Two members of the Ohlone tribe in Northern California will play prominent roles in the Sept. 23 canonization Mass for Blessed Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan who founded nine California missions.
Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass in Washington on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Andrew Galvan, who is the curator of Dolores Mission in San Francisco, will carry a reliquary containing a first-class relic of Blessed Serra to a prominent place next to the altar.
Victor Medina, one of only a few linguists fluent in the Chochenyo language of the Ohlone people of Northern California, will read the first Scripture reading in the native tongue.
Medina is Galvan’s cousin and assistant curator at Dolores Mission. He has dedicated himself to studying and preserving Chochenyo and expanding its use.
As coverage of the Mass will be seen around the world, it will be the first international broadcast of that language.
Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, was asked Sept. 15 if the pope knew of the controversy surrounding Blessed Serra and his treatment of the native peoples of California.
The priest said the pope is very familiar with debates over “evangelization and colonization,” debates which are similar in areas settled by the Spanish. However, the spokesman said, there is “great consensus” about Blessed Serra’s importance as a missionary and in the history of California.
Regarding the controversy, Medina in a posting on his Facebook page acknowledged that his decision to take part in the Serra Mass was not made easily.
“After months of thought and soul-searching on a very complex and difficult issue,” he said he decided to attend.
“My first and primary reason (for doing this) is that I am going for my ancestors; the brave people who suffered under the California Missions, and survived them,” he wrote. “I am going to discredit misconceptions many have that California Indians are extinct, and to show that we are here — thriving and strong. Secondly, I am going because I am a Catholic. Pope Francis is a hero of mine because of his vision of a more inclusive and just church.”
But he said he remains “clearly and unequivocally” opposed to the canonization of Blessed Serra.
“His policies with the establishment of the California Mission system led to catastrophic conditions my own ancestors had to live under; our voices were silenced, many of our people perished, and our world changed in permanent ways,” said Medina.
“Despite this injustice, we persisted, and we are correcting those mistakes of the past that were imposed on us. As both an Ohlone and a Catholic, I see no reason why Junipero Serra should be made a saint, and my attendance at this mass does not change my view on his canonization,” he added.
“At the canonization, my hope is that I will give a voice to my ancestors who were once silenced.”
Galvan is spearheading a major project for the Franciscans and the bishops in California to review and revise the cultural content and displays at the California missions under church authority to better reflect modern understandings of the relationship between Spanish civil authorities, Catholic missions and local Indian tribes.
Earlier this summer in an interview with Catholic News Service, Galvan, too, addressed his feelings over the mission system and the legacy that liners today.
He said he is “outraged” when he walks up to a mission, one that his ancestors likely built, and he is told, “That will be $5 to get in.” Or when a mission guide says, “The padres built the missions.”
“Could we simply get every guide in California that gives a tour at a California mission to say it this way, ‘The Indians, under the supervision of the padres, built the missions?'” he asked.
In the first 60 years of the missions, every baptism, marriage and funeral is of an Indian. Indian burial grounds are located at the missions.
“So the mission churches are churches built by Indians, before anything else, used by Indians before anyone else,” Galvan said. “But today those same people feel so unwelcome to come there.”
He said the church today is asking, “What can we now do to invite and to happily have native people come to the places that they built?”
In a Sept. 4 statement announcing the project to revamp church curriculum and museum programs on the California mission system, Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto, president of the California Catholic Conference, said: “The Indian experience has been ignored or denied, replaced by an incomplete version of history focused more on European colonists than on the original Californians.”
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Contributing to this story was Nancy Wiechec in Phoenix.