Father Serra Park in downtown Los Angeles is no more, after the mayor announced it would be renamed to La Plaza Park until a new name is adopted.

A statue of Serra was in the back since the 1930s, but in 2020 it was toppled by activist protesters.

The mayor announced the park will have “indigenous cultural easement” created “to give local indigenous communities priority access to the park for practice of traditional ceremonies.”

City councilman Mitch O’Farrell said the park was “a powerful symbol of past wrongs” because “Junipero Serra … in this region led local subjugation and conversion efforts on behalf of the Catholic Church.”

Pope Francis disagrees.

When he canonized Saint Serra in 2015 at a Mass in Washington, DC, he rejected all claims the new saint was ever involved in mistreating Native Americans.

“He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters. Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.”

Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles also defended against the “outrageous claims” against Serra in a new California bill saying he was involved in the “enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women.”

“We understand the bitter history of native exploitation. But history can be complicated and facts matter. Serra was a complex character defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends. While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people.”

Learn more about how Catholic missionaries founded California.

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