Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco called the recent toppling of a statue of celebrated missionary Father Junipero Serra in the California city’s Golden Gate Park the work of Satan when he exorcised the site of the attack on Saturday.
“Evil is present here," Cordileone said in a video of the exorcism posted by the archdiocese on YouTube. "This is the activity of the evil one who wants to bring down the Church, who wants to bring down all Christian believers. So, we offer now prayer and bless this ground with holy water so that God might purify it, sanctify it and that we, in turn, might be sanctified."
Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015 during his first visit to the United States, is known for bringing Catholicism to California in the 1700s when the state was a Spanish colony.
While Cordileone remembers Serra as a "great hero" and "great defender" of indigenous peoples, activists told USA Today that Serra was far from being a defender of the indigenous peoples. They want his statues to be removed throughout the state.
"It is an act of violence to even have the statues in our homelands," Elena Ortiz, chair of the Santa Fe Freedom Council of The Red Nation social justice organization, said. "It’s not just the statue, but it’s what it represented: the celebration of our genocide."
According to PBS, native tribes in Alta California, including the Chumash and Tongva, were often forced to convert nearly at gunpoint. They also reportedly faced beatings and imprisonment for disobedience. According to USA Today, Serra was noted for his role in enslaving Native American people.
Many of the native tribe members did not survive mission life as diseases introduced by the Spanish led to a significant decline in their population.
Cordileone urged Catholics, however, to pray the rosary, fast and inform themselves about the real history of the Church and Serra.
"I would ask our people to learn the history of Father Serra, the missions, the whole history of the Church, so they can appreciate the great legacy the Church has given us, given the world,” he said. “So much truth, beauty and goodness. It’s a wonderful legacy that we should be proud of. There are those that want to make us feel ashamed of it.”
The archbishop noted that Serra was a big part of his life as he grew up very close to the first mission that Serra founded in San Diego. As he prayed with other Catholics at the site of Serra’s toppled statue, Cordileone said the attack, which took place on June 19, was being driven by an evil intent to bring down the Church.
“I’ve been feeling great distress and sort of a deep wound in my soul when I see these horrendous acts of blasphemy and disparaging of the memory of Serra who was such a great hero, such a great defender of the indigenous people of this land," Cordileone said.