“We are going to become a model for the nation so it’s not this riot mob act and desecration, and even having a statue broken into pieces. That is our goal, and that we hope will come to fruition,” Elewaut added.
Across the country, protestors and rioters this week have pulled down statues of historic figures— some depicting Confederate figures, as part of a call to end systemic racism, but others depicting such figures as George Washington and Grant.
Some California activists view Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan missionary, as having contributed to the destruction of Native American way of life through his founding of the first nine of California’s mission churches. Many of the priest’s biographers dispute those claims.
Elders of the Chumash Native American tribe met last week with Ventura Mayor Matt Lavere and Fr. Elewaut.
“The three of us are confident that a peaceful resolution regarding the Father Junipero Serra statue can be reached, without uncivil discourse and character assassination, much less vandalism of a designated landmark,” the parties said in a June 18 joint statement.
“We all believe that the removal of the statue should be accomplished without force, without anger, and through a collaborative, peaceful process. This process has already commenced through our initial meeting and we look forward to continuing the discussion with the community to help guide further action on this.”
The proposal to remove the statue, which was dedicated in 1989, will need to go before the city council, the parties said, and a formal removal decision has not yet been made.
A similar statue was beheaded at the Old Mission Santa Barbara in 2017, and red paint was used to graffiti the mission in 2018, Ventura’s ABC affiliate reported.
Pope Francis canonized Serra in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2015, saying that “Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,”
Father Elewaut, said in his Sunday homily that while it is true that many Native Americans died after contact with Europeans, “it wasn’t a purposeful or contrived death” because most of them died of disease, which no one at the time fully understood.
Father Elewaut was present at the June 20 rally, and said he hopes the peaceful dialogue in which he and the Chumash elders have so far been engaged can be a model for the nation, to show that controversial statues need not be torn down by force.
The idea that Serra created what were akin to “concentration camps” for the Natives is “categorically false,” Elewaut said.
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"The blame cannot be put on one person, or one movement...but the hurt that they feel, the the pain that we should join with them in feeling is true, and it remains true, and it will remain true whether our statue stands or not,"
"But if [the removal] brings some healing, if that brings some peace of mind, then so be it...statues come and go, but the truth will be laid bare," the priest said, acknowledging that the statue will be removed from its current location, but the Church's mission will continue.
The mission will continue to be a sign of God's grace, regardless of the location of any particular statue, he said.
"Serra wanted to share what he truly believed to be the great gift of Christianity, of Catholicism, of sacramental life," the priest said.
Elewaut said he has been working with the elders of the Chumash tribe, for whom he has "profound respect." He hopes to continue to work with the Chumash, some of whom are parishioners at the mission.
Elewaut told Ventura’s ABC affiliate that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is open to moving the statue from City Hall to mission grounds. The LA Archdiocese did not confirm this by time of posting.