Bishop Robert Barron of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has defended the legacy of a Catholic saint whose statue was toppled earlier this year by social justice demonstrators and refuted the argument that evangelism is a form of "cultural aggression."
Barron delivered a homily last weekend on Aug. 22 outside the Mission Santa Ines in Solvang, California, where a statue of St. Junipero Serra is located.
Serra was a native of Spain who worked to bring Catholicism to the native peoples of present-day California and Mexico
Barron's homily came as other statues of the 18th-century Franciscan missionary located in the state have become targets of vandalism and destruction.
“The Church understands the very legitimate concerns of some of the protesters,” he said. “Yes, we are concerned about racism … oppression …(and) righting social wrongs.”
Serra was canonized by Pope Francis during his visit to the United States in 2015.
Critics argue that the Spanish missionary epitomized the horrors of colonialism and the mistreatment of Native Americans. During his homily, Barron attempted to assuage the concerns of anti-Serra protesters in the crowd.
The bishop strongly pushed back on the narrative asserting that Serra is to blame for “everything that bugs them about 18th-century Spanish colonialism.”
He slammed the “besmirching” of “the reputation and memory of this great saint.”
“I refuse to accept the characterization of evangelization as some sort of cultural aggression,” he said.
Barron also took issue with the characterization of Serra as indifferent or hostile to Native Americans.
“Do you know in 1773, Junipero Serra made his way, of course, by foot, in constant pain from Carmel all the way to Mexico City to argue for a bill of rights for the Native peoples?” he asked.
“When the Spaniards first arrived in the New World, in places like Santo Domingo, from those earliest days, there were churchmen who were speaking up for the rights and prerogatives of the Native peoples, who were resisting some of the worst elements of the Spanish occupation.”
A 2019 survey conducted by the Barna Group found that the idea of “evangelization as a kind of cultural aggression” seems to have gained acceptance among millennial Christians.
The survey found that 47% of millennials strongly or somewhat agreed with the idea that “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.”
According to Barna, 40% of millennials either strongly or somewhat disagree with the assertion that “if someone disagrees with you, it means they’re judging you.”
“Younger Christians tend to be more personally aware of the cultural temperature around spiritual conversations,” Barna stated in an analysis report. “Among practicing Christians, Millennials report an average (median) of four close friends or family members who practice a faith other than Christianity.”
“Sharing the gospel today is made harder than at any time in recent memory by an overall cultural resistance to conversations that highlight people’s differences,” Barna concluded.
Previous Barna research demonstrated that 65% of Christian millennials “believe that people today are more likely to take offense if they share their faith.”
Barron expressed disagreement with the negative view on evangelization.
“Serra wanted to share what he quite rightly took to be the most precious gift you could ever give,” he said. “That’s what his life was about.”
"This is the activity of the evil one who wants to bring down the Church, who wants to bring down all Christian believers,” Serra argued.