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A Controversial Canonization

During Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., he held a mass on Sept. 23 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C., to canonize the Franciscan friar Junípero Serra as a saint.

Deborah Miranda, the John Lucian Smith Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, is among those who have criticized the Pope’s actions. Earlier this year, she told The New York Times, “Serra did not just bring us Christianity. He imposed it, giving us no choice in the matter. He did incalculable damage to a whole culture.”

Serra (1713–1784), who was born in Majorca, Spain, and was an influential theological professor, founded the first missions in California, which converted tens of thousands of Indians along the West Coast. Once baptized, they were not allowed to leave the missions, and those who fled were rounded up by soldiers and returned.

Miranda, who is a mestiza (she describes herself as half Indian, half white), has continued to voice her opposition in an interview with National Catholic Register and in interviews with the BBC and CNN. She also traveled to D.C., joining a delegation of Californians as a representative of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of the Greater Monterey Bay Area, which held a press conference to explain its opposition to Serra’s canonization.

Miranda is the author of “Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir” (2013), which won the 2014 gold medal for autobiography/memoir, in the family legacy category, in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, or IPPYs. She also has a blog, Bad Ndns, where she posts about Native American issues.