Ken Lavarone: Inside the Canonization of Junipero Serra

Vincent Medina (left) and Andy Galvan, Ohlone at Old Mission Dolores.

Franciscan priest Ken Lavarone is the current pastor of my home church in Sacramento, California. He is also the official “vice postulator” for the canonization of  Spanish Franciscan priest Junipero Serra.

A “vice postulator” is the one that presents the case at the canonization Mass about the person’s life and what makes them worthy of sainthood. Fr. Ken has been intimately involved in the canonization process. One point of contention about Junipero Serra, who founded many of the California missions, has been the detrimental effect that the mission system has on many indigenous communities and the terrible legacies that some aspects of colonialism brought to the native people’s of the West.

So I noted with particular interest that two Ohlone men will be participating in the Mass and that the first scripture reading will be in Chocheyo, the Ohlone language. Both Ohlone men, Andy Gavan and Vincent Medina, are active in maintaining their native traditions and telling the story of Ohlone experiences at the Missions. Both are currently engaged in reclaiming the native experience at Old Mission Dolores (aka Mision San Francisco de Asis)  in San Francisco.

Below is an excerpt from Fr. Ken Lavarone’s note in the bulletin to St. Francis Parish in Sacramento describing his role in the canonization and in the liturgy, which will take place about a mile from my house in Washington, D.C., next week.

by Ken Lavarone, OFM

The Holy Father will arrive in Washington D.C. from Cuba on Tuesday afternoon, September 22. On Wednesday morning he will meet with President Obama and greet the people of the USA in front of the Capitol. There will be a motorcade following this audience. The liturgy [for the canonization of Fr. Junipero Serra] will take place that afternoon at 1:15 pm PST outdoors on the east portico of the Shrine of the Immaculate
Conception against the backdrop of the buildings of the Catholic University of America. At Pope Francis’ request, the entire liturgy will be in Spanish with simulcast translation into English. …

At the beginning of the liturgy, as Vice-Postulator for the Cause of the Canonization of Junipero Serra, I will be proclaiming the biography of Junipero Serra in Spanish. Following this will be prayers and litanies, and the relic of Fray Junipero will be presented in the reliquary that was designed and crafted by a neighbor on F Street [in Sacramento], MariRose Jelicich, with her collaborator, Fr. Ron Schmidt, of the Oakland Diocese.

Andy Galvan, an Ohlone Native American who has promoted the canonization of Fr. Serra for over 25 years, will make the presentation of the reliquary to the Holy Father. This will be a great honor and privilege for Andy. Following the canonization, the reliquary will be presented to the Diocese of Monterey to be situated in a place of honor near the burial site of St. Junipero Serra at Mission San Carlos de Carmelo in Carmel, CA.

During the liturgy, another Ohlone man, Vincent Medina, will proclaim the first reading in Chocheyo (the Ohlone language). This is almost a lost language, but is being revived by the young Ohlone people.
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Video: California’s Kumeyaay First Nations on “Life Under the Oaks”

California’s First Peoples were decimated with the arrival of the Spanish missionaries. As the story of Franciscan Spanish missionary Junipero Serra comes into the news, we must also lift up the whole peoples that he was complicit in destroying due to his limited understanding of the gospel at the time. As Christians, it is our responsibility not to condemn our ancestors for their unenlightened actions, but to take responsibility for what they did, ask forgiveness, and repair the harm. This includes making clear to the Vatican that the Papal Bulls of 1452 and 1493 (referred to as the Doctrine of Discovery) must be rescinded.

Read more from the Sisters of Loretto on the Doctrine of Discovery and their papal bull rescission committee.

Read Thomas Reese’s interview with Robert Senkewicz, professor of history at Santa Clara University and an expert on early California history. His most recent book is Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary, with Rose Marie Beebe.