Mission San Diego de Alcala. Photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons
Mission San Diego de Alcala. Photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons

An advocacy group representing Native Americans said Friday it would hold a demonstration in downtown Los Angeles this weekend to protest Pope Francis‘ plans to canonize Father Junipero Serra.

Serra is the 18th-century Spanish priest who is both revered and reviled for founding nine of California’s 21 missions, including San Diego de Alcala and San Juan Capistrano in Orange County.

His upcoming canonization is being protested by the Mexica Movement, an organization that says it represents native peoples on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Junipero Serra
Junipero Serra

“We attempted to meet with Archbishop (Jose) Gomez over the proposed canonization of Junipero Serra. He refused to meet with us or to return our phone call,” the group said in a statement. “He does not care about the truth of the crimes and immorality of this white supremacist priest.”

Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles, heads the nation’s biggest Roman Catholic archdiocese. He hailed the pope’s decision to confer sainthood on Serra, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Gomez called Serra one of his “spiritual heroes” and said the pope’s decision to canonize him is a “gift to California and the Americas.”

The Mexica Movement said it would stage a protest at the site of the Junipero Serra statue at Placita Olvera in downtown Los Angeles. beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday, then march to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and demonstrate in front of that edifice starting at 9:30 a.m.

“We will be demanding an audience with the archbishop of Los Angeles so that we can bring a stop the criminal process of the canonization of Junipero Serra,” the statement said, asserting that Serra, who died in 1784 at the Carmel mission near Monterey at the age of 61, committed genocidal acts.

The canonization ceremony is expected to take place next September when the pontiff visits the United States, where he is scheduled to make stops in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C. His announcement about Serra has stoked speculation that he might add a visit to California.

City News Service contributed to this article.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.