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San Francisco archbishop prays God will ‘purify’ site of toppled statue

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone conducts an exorcism at Mission San Rafael in California Oct. 17, 2020. Vandals tore down a St. Junipero Serra statue there Oct. 12. (CNS photo/Dennis Callahan, Archdiocese of San Francisco)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) — To rid the site of a toppled statue of St. Junipero Serra of evil, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone performed an exorcism rite outside St. Rafael Mission Church in San Rafael Oct. 17.

Just the saint’s feet are left after the statue on church property was vandalized and desecrated five days earlier by what the archbishop had described as a “small, violent mob.”

Before reading the rite in Latin, Archbishop Cordileone addressed the crowd gathered with him, telling them: “We come together in prayer and in reparation for this act of blasphemy. This sacred site has been desecrated and so we know there’s the presence of evil here.”

“We pray that God might purify this place of evil spirits, that he might purify the hearts of those who have perpetrated this blasphemy, that he might envelop them in his love so their hearts might be softened and turned toward him,” the archbishop said.

“And let us ask him as well for purification of our own hearts that we might be ever more faithful to living the way he calls us to and to be his agents of peace,” he added.

Archbishop Cordileone also said the crowd was gathered “to defend the honor of Father Serra and the legacy of his fellow Franciscan missionaries.”

“(They) came here just like our Lord, not to be served but to serve … not to dominate and annihilate and but to introduce a new people to the saving love of our Lord Jesus Christ, who defended them against those who would dominate and annihilate them,” the archbishop said.

The vandalism of the statue took place on Columbus Day — or Indigenous Peoples Day as the holiday is now called in some cities and states, including California — during what was described as a peaceful protest at first at St. Rafael Mission Church, but then some participants became violent and destroyed the statue.

Known for spreading the Gospel in the New World during the 18th century, Father Serra first arrived in Mexico from Spain. He made his way on foot up the coast of Mexico and to California, where he established a chain of missions that are now the names of well-known cities such as San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

He was the first president of the California mission system, and personally founded nine of the state’s 21 missions. It is estimated that during his ministry, St. Junipero Serra baptized about 6,000 native people.

In 2015, some people objected to his canonization, like critics of his beatification in 1988, because of questions raised about how Father Serra allegedly treated the native peoples of California and about the impact of Spanish colonization on native peoples throughout the Americas.

In a statement the day the Serra statue was desecrated, Archbishop Cordileone said: “There is no question that the indigenous peoples of our continent suffered under Europeans who came here and their descendants, especially after the mission era ended and California entered into the United States. But Father Serra is the wrong symbol of those who wish to address or redress this grievance.”

“Father Serra and his fellow Franciscans renounced all worldly pursuits to give their lives to serving the native peoples and so protected them from the abuses of their fellow Spaniards,” he added in his statement.

The day of the exorcism, Archbishop Cordileone told the faithful: “We ask God’s blessing to strengthen us as we bear witness to all that is good, true and beautiful about our faith.”

He noted that he would say the exorcism rite in Latin, because “the experts in the field tell me that Latin seems to be more effective against the devil because he doesn’t like the universal language of the church.”

Later the same day, Archbishop Cordileone performed the exorcism rite outside of a Planned Parenthood facility after leading a rosary walk with 40 Days for Life “prayer warriors” from St. Raphael Church to Planned Parenthood, said a post on the Facebook page of the San Francisco archdiocesan Office of Human Life and Dignity.

“The archbishop was already planning to pray with 40 Days for Life and then, after the vandalization of the St. Junipero Serra statue at St. Raphael, did an exorcism where the statue was. At the last minute the archbishop decided since he had the prayers with him — and there abortion is such a grave evil and work of the devil — to perform an exorcism at Planned Parenthood,” the Facebook post said.

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