A statue of Catholic missionary St. Junipero Serra was toppled in a San Francisco park Friday, along with statues of Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant.
The statues were torn down Friday evening from Golden Gate Park, by a group of about 100 people.
During the eighteenth century, the saint founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California, many of those missions would go on to become the centers of major California cities.
Serra helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity and taught them new agricultural technologies. The statue in Golden Gate Park was first placed in 1907, and was crafted by well known American sculptor Douglas Tilden.
Critics have lambasted Serra as a symbol of European colonialism and said the missions engaged in the forced labor of Native Americans, sometimes claiming Bl. Serra himself was abusive.
But Serra’s defenders say that Serra was actually an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights. They note the many native people he helped during his life, and their outpouring of grief at his death.
Biographers note that Serra frequently intervened for native people when they faced persecution from Spanish authorities. In one case, the priest intervened to spare the lives of several California natives who had attacked a Spanish outpost.
In one letter urging fair treatment of native people, Serra wrote that “if the Indians were to kill me…they should be forgiven.”
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said in 2015 that Serra had “deep love for the native peoples he had come to evangelize.”
Read more at Catholic News Agency